Site Spotlight: Christine Wong – Young Runners

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Learn more about our NYRR Youth Programs! We are sharing profiles on teachers from across the country who work first-hand with the NYRR Youth Programs that Team for Kids’ fundraising efforts support. These select individuals are not just dedicated coaches and coordinators, but also runners who will be joining our 2015 TCS New York City Marathon class and 50,000 other runners this November. Read their stories on our blog under the Site Spotlight category for insight on the NYRR Youth Programs and to hear inspirational quotes from students and parents.

In which program is your site enrolled?
Young Runners

What is the name of your site? Where are you located?
PS 001M Alfred E Smith (PS 1M Dragons) – New York, NY

What was your motivation to start an NYRR Youth program at your site and how has it been implemented?
We began the Young Runners program 9 years ago with the hope of sharing our love for running with our school community. With a community predominantly consisting of a Chinese speaking background, our hope was to expose the children and families to running as a fun sport, healthy activity, and a way to balance an already heavy emphasis on academic learning and Chinese school on weekends. Also, running did not have a language barrier. All we needed were shoes or sneakers and a willingness to explore the neighborhood through running. In addition, we also wanted to take the students around NYC and introduce them to sites around the city and to the running community. We wanted to begin a new program for our students.

We have implemented the program every year for the past 9 years. We begin each year by recruiting 4th and 5th graders in October. We hold practices twice a week. We register for road races that include races up to 4 miles. We also register and participate in the NYRR Jamborees which allow the students to participate in track and field events. To prepare the students for these races, we keep our practices very interesting by varying practices between indoor and outdoor locations. During inside practices, we play different tag games and relay races, while during outside practices, we run around the neighborhood. We truly take advantage of our neighborhood by utilizing the Manhattan Bridge, the nearby parks, and neighborhood streets. When students join the team, they each receive a PS 1M Dragons t-shirt. The students are proud to wear the shirts and to be part of a team. I have to say that the coaches truly lead by example by continuing to run in NYRR races, such as the TCS New York City Marathon and United Airlines NYC Half. Having coaches participate in these events, provides our students with an opportunity to cheer along the course. The coaches really practice what they love: running.

Can you share how your students have responded to the program and some of their favorite components?
Students have responded to the program in various ways. The commitment of attending practices twice of week definitely shows dedication. Other students commit by attending as many weekend races as possible, such as the NYRR events and Jamborees. Students have an opportunity to share their feelings about the program when we complete our goal sheets each season. Many include that the weekend races are their favorite part of the program. Others share how they love to receive Young Runners items, such as t-shirts, dog tags, sweat pants, and sweatshirts. Then there are some students who use the opportunities when we travel to the different races in Central Park and Prospect Park as writing topics in their classrooms. They are able to use their experience from the program to help them with their academics. Since we have many 5th graders in the program, many of them add comments about their running experiences into the yearbook. Overall, the weekend road races in Central Park and Prospect and the Jamborees are the students’ favorite components of the program.

Can you share a story of how your kids, or one student in particular, have been transformed or impacted by your program?
It is definitely hard to pinpoint one child, but I have to say that we really transform the whole family through the program. With such an emphasis on academic learning and with the growing emphasis on standardized testing, many students and families are feeling the pressure of maintaining good grades. Many families and students are looking to investing their free time with more test prep or more Chinese school on the weekend. We lose emphasis on developing the most balanced child that we could with all of this focus on academic learning.

What we really try to transform and impact is that children can be successful in not only academics but in health and fitness as well. The most balanced and successful students are ones who have confidence in themselves, explore the world, and have experiences to share. When we first began the program at our school, it was extremely difficult to get parents on board and support taking these weekend trips because many of the children attended Saturday school or Chinese School. Over the years, families have realized that there is a balance of academics and physical activity. It is okay if a child spends a few weekends participating in a physical activity instead of attending academic classes. Ultimately, we have discovered that the children really want to attend these trips and running events around the city. When parents witness the happiness in their child, the support grows for us continuing the Young Runners program at our school.

The struggle of finding a healthy balance for all students continues, but as long as there are programs such as Young Runners, the struggle becomes easier each day. We as educators really notice the difference it makes when students and families finally reach that balanced lifestyle.

Can you share an inspiring quote from a student or parent?
We are the PS 1 Dragons so here is a quote from a student explaining why we are the Dragons: “Dragons are fearless. Dragons are bold.”

So when the students wear our team shirts, we really hope they feel that way!

What do you believe are the biggest benefits of your program and the importance of the work you are carrying out?
The biggest benefits of the program are to provide students with an opportunity to engage in physical activity, travel and run around NYC, realize the importance of setting and achieving goals, and embracing differences. Life isn’t all about academic learning and learning can definitely manifest itself in different ways. If we do not have the different programs to allow students to explore and grow, the students will never be able to figure out what they really enjoy doing in life. We also remind each student that running looks different for everybody and we need to embrace the differences. We emphasize that some runners are fast, some pace well, some can run up hills well, and some can run for a long time. We support all different types of runners and respect each person’s goal. I love the fact that the other coach and I truly love running during our free time. We share our own running experiences with the students. We discuss our Marathon and half-marathon experiences with them and some students have even shared that they would like to run one when they become older. It’s also wonderful that through NYRR, our students have come to our races and cheered us on. The students come with signs and banners, encouraging us, and it just feels amazing! I hope that the students see us running out there in the big races and realize that they could be doing the same thing one day in the future.

When did your relationship with running begin and why?
My relationship with running began around 2004 and 2005. The assistant coach and I discussed how we both really wanted to run one marathon, but we were both very nervous about it. We decided to follow through on this goal by holding each other accountable to running one marathon together. We decided to train together and we registered for our first marathon together in San Francisco. Of course, we didn’t stop with San Francisco, so we decided that since we live in NYC, we needed to make our ultimate goal to run the TCS New York City Marathon together. We decided to join NYRR and ran many races together. We experimented with long runs and eating different types of gels. We even began cross training and learned how to swim together. Now, neither of us are afraid of the water anymore! I have to say that we really pushed each other physically, but also helped each other by reminding each other of our goal. Eventually, we did reach our goal of running the TCS New York City Marathon together, and since then, have run numerous other races. Running has become a regular part of both of our lives now, and if it wasn’t for our pact together many years ago, I’m not sure if I would have this current relationship with running as I do now. Today, we definitely find new ways to set other goals for ourselves and we continue to support each other on our journey. Part of our journey is passing our love of running down to the students.

What is your favorite place to run and why?
I enjoy running over the Williamsburg Bridge in NYC on an early morning. I love looking out into the water and looking out over my neighborhood. In the early morning, there is also less cars and pedestrians. The air just feels fresher and cleaner.

Tell us a little more about yourself
My name is Christine Wong. I am a Special Education teacher and have been working in the NYC Department of Education for the past 11 years. I work with students in grades kindergarten to 2nd grade with special needs in a self-contained classroom in a community school setting. I am also an education activist and am an advocate of public education. I am a member of the NYC teacher’s union, United Federation of Teachers, and a few of the items we advocate for are the following: more funding, fairer or less standardized testing for students throughout NYC, and more support for English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with special needs. I enjoying traveling to new cities, spending time with my family and friends, and eating chocolate. I really enjoy watching tennis, but I have yet to learn to play it well. Hopefully I can learn one day!

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