When you’re the principal of a school named Sunnyside, it’s hard not to look on the bright side. But lately, David Kearney has even more than usual to be optimistic about.
Kearney, principal of Olathe’s Sunnyside Elementary School, earlier this year found out that his school will receive a grant of nearly $8,700 from the Sunflower Foundation in Topeka to build a quarter-mile asphalt walking and running trail at Sunnyside. The trail will meet the needs of the school’s more than 200-member student running club. The money is a matching grant that will be combined with the nearly $8,700 raised for the project by the school’s booster club.
Last year, the booster club raised the money by hosting a walk-a-thon event called Walking on Sunshine. Parent Amiee Shearer was co-chairwoman of the event.
“We wanted to start a capital campaign that involved exercise,” Shearer said. “The running club at our school is huge. So we said let’s do something around that. We came up with pledge goals for each child.”
Students were asked to raise at least $30 in donations from friends and family in exchange for walking four laps on the day of the event. The students also enjoyed dancing, prizes and other fun activities during the walk-a-thon.
Physical fitness is a big part of life for students at Sunnyside Elementary. The school is home to both the SunRunners running club and a jump rope club known as the JC Jumpers.
Fifteen years ago, Kearney started the running club with 40 members when he became principal at Sunnyside. The idea for the club came from his time at Black Bob Elementary School in Olathe. While serving as principal there, he became involved with the Jared Coones Memorial 5K Pumpkin Run. Coones, who died from leukemia in 1998, had been a student at Black Bob Elementary.
The race remains the inspiration for the club. Members of the Sunnyside SunRunners Club met after school on Mondays for about six weeks before the Pumpkin Run on Oct. 4. The school had 320 registered runners and walkers at the event, which Kearney said was the largest school group in the run and twice as big as any other school team.
Every year, a group of Sunnyside students also participates in the annual Kansas City Kids Marathon. The students spend weeks logging 25 miles during the SunRunner club meetings at school. Then on Oct. 18, the day of the Kansas City Marathon, the students finish the last 1.2 miles, starting just north of Crown Center.
And throughout the training and the races, Kearney is right there running alongside his students and cheering them on. All of the preparation for these races takes place after school at Sunnyside. But without a proper trail, training has been difficult. There isn’t a park or trail located near the school.
“When we do training runs, the half-mile loop crosses several parking lot entrance and exits as well as residential streets,” Kearney said. It just takes a lot of manpower to have parent out there at each entrance and exit.”
So when Kearney learned about the Sunflower Foundation — an organization dedicated to promoting healthier Kansans whose Sunflower Trails Program partners with schools and communities across the state to create safe and accessible outdoor walking trails — and the possibility that they could help pay for a proper walking trail at the school, he decided it was worth a try.
He enlisted the help of Sunnyside parent Regina Sirois, a published author of young adult literature, to assist him with the writing of the grant.
Sirois spent much of the summer researching the effects of exercise on children and the positive results it could have on student learning and included the findings when writing the grant.
“It doesn’t just offer physical benefits but mental benefits for children,” Sirois said. “With the high rates of ADHD, experts recommend physical activity interspersed with learning. It’s not just about kids being overweight; everyone needs exercise because of the mental benefits as well.”
Their hard work has paid off. Now that the grant has been approved, construction on the walking trail is tentatively set for the spring. The trail will also be open to the community as well.