Read, Right, Run Marathon has a calming effect

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Outside, the kindergarten through fifth-graders were chatty, energetic and a bit difficult to corral at times.

But once inside Alexian Brothers Sherbrooke Village nursing home, the St. Mark School students were calm and focused. The difference? A couple big bags full of books and a task of reading the books to some of the residents at tables in a commons area.

St. Mark is one of 13 Catholic grade schools in the archdiocese that participated this year in the Read, Right and Run Marathon, a program of the Go! St. Louis marathon. The students read 26 books, performed 26 good deeds and ran 26 miles, one at a time, culminating in their final mile on April 8.

On April 5, just as they had done on 24 other Wednesdays after school since October, the 30 students in the parent-led extracurricular program ran the mile round-trip to the nursing home. Inside, third-grader Jonathan Smedra sat at a table with other students taking turns reading to resident Donna Newsham. He gave a thumbs-up to the program, citing its many benefits.

"I know I made these elders happy by reading to them," Jonathan said, adding that the running "keeps me happy."

Receiving a medal after running the final mile in Forest Park with the more than 5,000 students from 150 public and private schools "makes me feel proud," Jonathan said.

Newsham said she is happy to get the visit from the children. "I enjoy their spirit. And Jonathan did very good," Newsham said after he finished reading "Star Stuff."

The Go! St. Louis marathon is in its 17th year and the 16th for the Read, Right and Run Marathon. St. Mark is in its fourth year, its first in conjunction with Sherbrooke Village. Jill Burkett, principal of the school in south St. Louis County, said she likes the program because it involves younger students. "It teaches them elements of bettering themselves physically, in service to others and academically through reading," Burkett said.

She praised the parent volunteers, noting that they get creative when there's bad weather and the gym is occupied. "Sometimes the students are skipping down the hall to get their running in," Burkett said.

Volunteer Michelle Shoger, parent of a first- and fourth-grader, said the older students are paired with the younger students. "They connect with the residents at Sherbrooke, and it's been a positive experience for everybody," Shoger said.

Every week there were a few groups of students who rushed to partner with their favorite residents, Shoger said. The fourth-graders wrote a story with a resident and plan to put on a performance based on the story at a celebration of the completion of the program.

Two other parents helped with the program April 5, Katie Calvo, who has a kindergartner and third-grader, and Chris Hawse, who has a fourth-grader. Calvo cited the children's eagerness to read with the residents. The students remain enthused, "ready to go every Wednesday and spend this quality time with their friends at Sherbrooke," she said. "There's been some really special bonds formed."

Some of the books were supplied by the parents and others came from an extended checkout from the St. Louis County Library. Several students explained what ingredient makes for a favorite book. What's the secret? "It's funny," third-graders Sophia Lenhart and Sophia Calvo said. 

Catholic schools in the archdiocese that participated
in the Read, Right and Run Marathon this year.

• St. Mary Magdalen School (Also doing Middle School Milers)

• Assumption School - St. Louis

• Assumption School - O'Fallon

• St. Ambrose School

• St. Mark School

• Holy Spirit School

• Little Flower School

• St. James the Greater

• St. Gabriel the Archangel

• St. Patrick (Also doing Middle School Milers)

• St. Vincent de Paul

• Most Sacred Heart School - Eureka

• St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

The program's goal is to develop reading-proficient, community-minded and physically fit children in grades K-5. Allison Berger, director of operations for Go! St. Louis, said the efforts to help the community vary and are as simple as reading to younger students or helping out at church. They also learn to appreciate running as an individual and as a team sport. Last year, one of the winners of the 5k race for the Go! Marathon started out in Read, Right and Run.

For information, visit www.gostlouis.org

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