Witter Elementary gets students excited about exercise

Aaden Richards (left), 3rd grade, competes against his class in the 50-yard dash, Thursday. Richards would win his heat and eventually take 1st place. Photo by Brett Miller.

BRAWLEY — The students of Witter Elementary assembled on the school field Thursday morning to race, compete, and cheer on their peers as they participated in the school’s annual Track and Field. While students grade 3rd through 6th enjoyed the competition and cool morning breeze, teachers and faculty hoped the event would have a long-lasting impact on the students’ perception of exercise.

“The motivation is to have fun and give the kids a day of activity instead being on an iPhone,” said Heidi Kappeler, known as Mrs. K to her 6th grade students, who led this year’s efforts to organize a series of competitions, including relay races, 50-yard dashes, sack races, and a free-throw competition.

According to a ten-year study released in 2012, obesity rates among 5-20 year olds in Imperial County have hovered over 40 percent for years. Rates for the general population were higher: 71 percent in Imperial County compared to the state average of 55.4 percent. While data may indicate obesity has somewhat declined in recent years, experts are still concerned of the long-term effects of such high obesity rates, especially among children.

Witter Elementary hopes to change that for its students.

“In addition to focusing on academics, we also try to focus on the whole child, including their health, wellness, and fitness,“ said Principal Debra Hale.

“This is just one of those fun things, maybe get them intrigued with track and field and not sitting at home on the couch wasting the day away,” Kappeler explained.

Students raced according to class, as their friends and classmates watched and applauded from their nearby seats. Each student was given their own blue and yellow personal water bottle printed with the school name and logo. Though the morning was cooler than average, the competitions and the excitement of the events had the students keeping their bottles close at hand.

Track and Field day had been discontinued several years back, but Kappeler and other instructors had worked to bring the event to life again, and it has been gaining momentum for the last few years.

A school nurse stood ready nearby to treat any cuts and bruises, or to merely offer support after a personally devastating loss. Parents also showed up in droves to cheer their children on.

“Parents come prepared now. They come with their umbrellas and chairs,” noted Kappeler, who has seen mothers, fathers, siblings, and other family members show up over the last three years. “We encourage parent involvement.”

Raul, a parent with two children competing in the events, watched from the sideline. “I think it’s good they’re getting their exercise, but also how they have to work together with their team,” he said. “It’s good to see them getting exercise to go along with their studying.”

Cruz De Lobar, who was to soon to participate in the 4th grade relay, admitted he was a little nervous, but was still positive about the event.

“Playing outside will change your lifestyle. It could be fun sometimes, and it won’t be sometimes, but that’s ok.”