By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 11, 2018 | En Español
DECATUR—They run laps in the parking lot and hurry to the curb when a car appears. The oldest athlete looks out for the youngest, exercising hand in hand.
The runners are members of the Kilometer Kids club at St. Peter Claver Regional School in Decatur. Among runners in blue sweat suits emblazoned with the school logo is Julian Moses, a seventh-grader with visions of the Olympics.
“It’s a blast to be fast. I need to run. I need to get out there,” said the 12-year-old. He has a couple of 5K medals to prove his point.
Running isn’t just about the individual. For Moses, some of the fun is helping others. “It teaches you discipline, to work together,” he said.
The grade school students jog single file as a pint-sized runner at the back of the line dashes to the front. Everyone moves at a quick step.
Coach and teacher Leann Martin encourages them.
“You can do it. You can do it. You got this. Push through. Push through,” called Martin.
This modest archdiocesan school in DeKalb County is set to benefit from a fundraiser organized by teacher Christina Mirarchi, a graduate student with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program.
The dream is to see the school’s grassy field become a running track with an athletic field. But like a mirage in a desert, the field is left untouched for the school’s more than 100 children. Administrators fear divots and other hazards could wreck an ankle, putting it off limits. Soccer-loving students play in the gym, and the runners use the parking lot for now.
But runners and supporters of ACE are Atlanta-bound to make this long-term project closer to a reality with the 2018 Publix Georgia Marathon.
Supporters nationwide aid the DeKalb school
Four ACE teachers in Atlanta are lacing up for the race, including organizer Mirarchi. An expected 44 ACE Teaching Fellows from across the country are set to run. ACE is a program of the University of Notre Dame, which trains and places teachers in underserved Catholic schools.
Dan Brndjar, a math teacher at Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fayetteville, has his sights set on the 26.2-mile marathon, to be held Sunday, March 18, in Atlanta. Brndjar coaches the school’s JV basketball team.
At least one person should run the marathon portion to represent Atlanta’s ACE community, noted Brndjar.
“I also thought it would be a neat challenge to train for a marathon while supporting a great cause,” he said.
Mirarchi signed up for her second 13.1-mile foot race. Her training started Christmas Day, where 20-degree days in her native Pennsylvania forced her onto a treadmill. Her plan is to run four days a week when she’s outside the classroom, where she teaches math, science and religion to middle schoolers.
For Mirarchi, a high school athlete, the club lets her see “the joy and energy that the students bring.” She said many students find the first practice difficult, but by the end of the three-month season they are comfortably running the entire time and enjoying it.
More than a dozen staff and family members of people connected to the school are participating in the Publix Marathon. Principal Susanne Greenwood is raising money by running in the 5K race, an option offered in addition to the long distance runs.
Martin, 23, is in her second year teaching at St. Peter Claver. She leads a classroom of third- and fourth-graders. Martin said she is more into cycling for exercise than running, but started training for the 13.1 mile-course through Atlanta’s streets.
Having a track would mean the world to the students for a safe place to run, not worrying about tripping on the blacktop or having to watch out for cars, she said.
School serves children of refugees
St. Peter Claver Regional School, located at 2560 Tilson Road in Decatur, is the smallest school in the archdiocese. Its 10 faculty members teach some 119 students, from pre-K to eighth grade. It is situated in a neighborhood where 30 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. The school serves as a community center for children, some who have lived in refugee camps.
Mirarchi is in her second year as a member of the Alliance for Catholic Education. The program offers college graduates a two-year experience teaching in Catholic schools. At the program’s end, the fellows receive a master’s degree in education from the University of Notre Dame.
At a summer retreat for ACE Fellows, Mirarchi pitched the fundraising idea. She advocated for the unique school where students speak languages other than English at home, including Spanish, Burmese, Zotung, Malay and Amharic.
“I have seen students grow in confidence in their own ability, with running, as well as in school or other life tasks,” said Mirarchi.
The March 18 race takes over in downtown Atlanta. Along with the long distances, a fan favorite is returning with the 5K course. Thousands of runners gathered in 2017 at the start line at Centennial Olympic Park.
Anyone can join the St. Peter Claver School team. Among the amenities will be a team tent at the park where people can pump each other up or enjoy a cup of coffee on race morning. A “carbo-loading” party at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur for all participants and supporters is scheduled the night before the races.
The team’s goal for the event is $25,000. Some $1,500 has been pledged.
Long-term project starts with a step
There’s no argument that exercise helps students keep weight off. Scientists are looking into whether exercise is linked to classroom success, too. A study of 111 inactive Georgia students revealed 20 minutes of exercise helped young people on math tests, as well with planning and organizing. Researchers at Augusta’s Medical College of Georgia conducted the 2011 study.
Kilometer Kids, offered by the Atlanta Track Club, is one of many afterschool activities at St. Peter Claver. Twice a week students take over the neighboring parish parking lot at Sts. Peter and Paul. A lap around the lot measures an estimated 10th of a mile.
The club members are excited to participate in the 5K. The club cannot cover the team’s entry fees, so they hope to get race fees waived again this spring. Club members were disappointed when the chance last year was scrapped because of weather.
Martin and Mirarchi lead afternoon drills for the dozen students. At the start, the oldest lead the youngest by hand. Each of the students leads a stretching exercise.
“It’s created new friends and relationships they would not have,” Martin said after a workout. She said the point of the club is “for them to forget any stresses they are having in classes and at home.”
The fundraiser is one effort to move this small, struggling school closer to the finish line.
For more information on and to donate to the track and field fundraising project at St. Peter Claver Regional School, visit http://bit.ly/gb-StPeterClaverSchoolTrack.