The bell rings and students stream out of the school. Today is Cross Country Kids practice and a large group of children are gathering on the blacktop, organizing themselves into grade levels to sign in for this one-of-a-kind free after-school program offered at A2STEAM. For the next hour, they will run around a playground field and through the nearby neighborhoods, supervised by parent volunteers.
The children are given a chain and a punch card. As they run laps they fill their punch card, which is then traded in for a small plastic foot to put on their chain. The students wear these chains with pride as a visual symbol of all their hard work and running.
The beginning of the program
Cross Country Kids is a beloved program that was started in 2003 by the late Rick Dekeon, the physical education instructor at the school for many years when it was Northside Elementary. When Dekeon was diagnosed with cancer, volunteers Don and Andrea Wilkerson stepped up as the program’s parent leaders. Ann Arbor residents, who first became involved with Cross Country Kids six years ago, when their daughter was a kindergartener at Northside, Don and Andrea volunteered with Cross Country Kids, bringing along their preschooler son (now a third grader at the school), who began running at age 3 with the other children. When Dekeon passed away, the Wilkersons were determined that the cross country program would continue. They believed the community and the school needed the program and so when the school transitioned from Northside to the new A2STEAM, the cross country program remained, helping students and families forge bonds outside the classroom.
Unlike many other afterschool programs
Unlike other after-school programs, Cross Country Kids is open to grades kindergarten through fifth, and the children and parents from all grades mingle as they run. “Instead of just meeting the parents of students in your child’s grade, you get to meet the whole school,” says Andrea Wilkerson. “This promotes and strengthens a sense of community.”
Parents volunteer during practices and donate snacks. For the past several years the Wilkersons have covered the overhead costs themselves. In the future they hope to continue growing the program organically and fundraise so that they can maintain a free, or close to free program, in which all children can participate.
What keeps them going
So what has kept the Wilkersons going, donating their time, money and effort to Cross Country Kids? They believe in the value of teaching children early how to exercise and take care of their bodies and that doing so can be fun! They believe that the whole school community has been strengthened and has benefitted from getting these kids and their parents together and running. They love the social and safe interactive environment for the students. The Wilkersons’ dream for the future is that the Cross Country Kids program can continue to expand at A2STEAM, and perhaps even to other schools across the district.
Want to get involved?
Cross Country Kids is run by volunteers who are needed to set up cones, run with the children, mark punch cards and even fundraise or seek grants for the program. If you are interested in helping any of these efforts or would like to start a similar program at another school, please contact Andrea Wilkerson via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Favorite run in Ann Arbor? Around Argo Pond
Favorite running event? Rick’s Run for Kids which is held annually to raise money for Rec and Ed scholarships and honors the legacy of Rick Dekeon.
Favorite Season in Michigan? Fall
Dream family vacation? Outdoors somewhere camping, hiking and adventuring
What do you do when the weather keeps you indoors? Both kids participate in ice hockey so we are at the ice rink a lot. We also enjoy cross country skiing.