As a fun and active way to end the busy fall season, dozens of students at Blythe Park Elementary School in Riverside participated in the school’s annual Cocoa Run on Friday, Dec. 4. 

The event, held in the morning before school, consisted of students running around the school building as many times as they could for 20 minutes while parents, police and firefighters volunteered and cheered the children on. Afterwards, everyone was invited to gather in the library and celebrate over cookies and hot chocolate. 

This was the second year for the run; Blythe Park Principal Casimira Zarzycki Gorman first started the event after arriving in the district last year. Gorman began a similar program at her previous school district and continued her efforts at Blythe Park in order to emphasize to students the importance of living a healthy and active life.

“We’ve all heard about childhood obesity and leading healthy lives, and I wanted for kids to feel purposeful with their movement and understand why it’s important in their lives,” Gorman said. “Research shows how movement helps with memory and learning. When you stimulate the heart and engage in cardiovascular exercises, it helps with memory process. It gives kids the opportunity to socialize in the morning, gets their energy out and gets their mind running.”

At Blythe Park, students in second grades through fifth grades are invited to become a part of a program called Cardio Kids. Before school on Wednesdays and Fridays, students track their runs by collecting one Popsicle stick for every one lap run around the school. Every four Popsicle sticks collected equals one mile and students are able to monitor their progress on a chart in the gymnasium.

“The Cocoa Run is the culmination to our fall season for running,” Gorman said. [We have] the hope that over the course of the year, they run a whole marathon.”

Gorman, an avid runner who has completed several half and full marathons, enjoys coaching students and even runs alongside them on some mornings. 

This fall, she says around 55 second- through fifth-graders participated in the Cardio Kids program. Gorman said that physical education teacher Sean Bartelt also helps lead the program and has been instrumental in its success. 

Overall, Gorman says the students seem to enjoy the program and says parents have also been very supportive of her efforts.

“The community response [at the run] was very positive,” Gorman said. “The parents support their children, and they’re very health conscious as well.”