City Connects Coordinator Ashlei Alvarez does not enjoy running. When she was in school, she was the cross-country runner who hid in the bathroom.
But every Friday morning, Alvarez goes running around the Boston Common with 30 fourth- and fifth-graders, two parents, and a number of staff members from the Josiah Quincy School where Alvarez works.
“My first year here I noticed that we didn’t have a lot of extracurricular, sports-based programs,” Alvarez says. So when a teacher at her school told her about Sole Train: Boston Runs Together, a running program “that’s about deconstructing the impossible,” Alvarez and Kelly Garcelon, a kindergarten teacher who does like running, brought the program into their school.
Alvarez expected five students to sign up. Instead, 30 did. “We were shocked,” Alvarez says.
Sole Train is a great example of the enrichment programs that coordinators bring into City Connects schools, creating opportunities in sports, arts, music, and other areas in response to students’ needs and interests.
The Quincy School’s Sole Train team was formed at the end of September. The students who run are called young soles. The group of seven to nine supervising adults who run with them are the old soles.
At the first practice, the kids were competing against each other, Alvarez says, seeing how long and fast they could run.
But then they grew into a team. “Before kids just wanted to be first. But now they’ve started cheering for the kids who pull up the rear. They’ve really been helpful to each other. They really have become a community, a little family.”
In October, the students ran their first Sole Train 5K race in Boston’s Franklin Park.
Sometime later, Alvarez heard great news: thanks to their performance at that 5K, her students had won an award.
“It was the most Sole award, which meant our team was the most spirited. At our first race we were all super hyped-up and excited. The kids really brought all their energy and excitement.”
As Sole Train participants, the students receive sweatshirts and race-related T-shirts. And thanks to a partnership with the running shoe company Brooks, the students will receive new sneakers.
The students’ next race will be the 4th Annual Halfway to Dot Day 5k Road Race in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.
Among the many benefits of Sole Train is that the students learn the lessons it takes to run a 5K race, including persistence and pacing themselves since they can’t sprint all the way.
“These are lessons we also teach at school.”
Among the other benefits:
“The students get to know new kids whom they’re not in class with. And they’re learning a new thing about themselves: that they can run, and they can do a 5K. A lot of kids are surprised by that.”
The team’s high-spirited, you-can-do-it attitude has even rubbed off on the adults, including the ones who don’t love running. It’s a great outcome for City Connects: not just providing kids with services — but providing them with services and opportunities that enrich both the adults involved and the larger community.
“Running opens up a whole new world for the kids,” Alvarez says.
And it’s the kids who will go on to make this larger world better.