Before marathon, Walcott visits young milers in name of fitness

Chancellor Dennis Walcott took a break from parent town hall meetings, protests and policy speeches this morning to visit Central Park and greet more than a thousand public school students for a citywide running event.

Walcott is three days away from running a race of his own – the New York City Marathon – and took the chance to hype healthy lifestyle habits as one way to boost student performance in the classroom.

“As far as wellness is concerned, that’s what makes for a student to be able to perform in the classroom,” Walcott said. “And that’s our goal.”

The event was one of dozens hosted annually by the New York Road Runners in partnership with the Department of Education as a way to encourage running in the public school system. For more than six years, NYRR’s Mighty Milers program has provided equipment and training resources to teachers who want to start running programs in their school. It now counts more than 50,000 students, including ones from The Active Learning Elementary School, which we wrote about in June after it won a national award for its health-conscious curriculum.

“Running is becoming the sport of choice for New York City schools,” said NYRR President Mary Wittenberg. “It’s easy, it’s accessible, it’s affordable. That’s what we’re teaching, even when there’s limited resources.”

The partnership comes at a time when budget cuts have limited schools’ ability to offer fitness options. Last month, a report found that the majority of city schools weren’t meeting physical education requirements.

But teachers I spoke to today said their students, many who come from low income communities, need as much exercise as they can get.

“We have high asthma rates, high obesity rates,” said Maisha Cadet-Duval, a physical education teacher who coaches the running program at P.S. 57 in East Harlem. “But so many of my kids have come in and lost weight and they’re so much more conscious about their health now too.”

Perhaps no one is more credible a spokesman than Walcott, a skydiving fitness enthusiast who has been known to walk with a pedometer and meticulously measure his meal servings. He said he is only now about to complete his first marathon, in part to celebrate his 60th birthday.

“The children, when they hear that, they’re excited,” Walcott said.

Students came from every borough today, representing 53 schools and ranging in age from kindergartners to high school seniors, racing between 200 meters and a full mile. Afterward, they played games, ate bagged lunches provided by NYRR and watched student performances at the nearby bandshell.

Walcott, who is currently tapering in preparation for Sunday’s race, declined to specify a goal time when asked by a reporter.

“My target time is to finish,” he said.