On most Tuesday and Friday afternoons, 40 to 50 girls and boys can be seen running or walking laps around the playground at Joplin’s Kelsey Norman Elementary School.
This after-school activity is dubbed the Kelsey Norman Running Club. By running and determination laps, Sheen Briggs, the school’s literacy paraprofesional, is teaching the youngsters how to set their own goals and to gain the necessary discipline and back to follow them through to completion, when even encountering sets and difficulties. The target is a valuable skill and life lesson they’ll eventually take with them into adulthood.
When Briggs launched the running club seven years ago, she said, “I felt like there was so much pent-up energy for the kids sitting in the classroom, and I thought (about) what I could do to help facilitate that energy into something Positive, because I feel like the kids who have that energy constantly get into trouble.”
She made that comment Tuesday afternoon just seconds after she sent nearly 50 kids out on the track in the sunshine that day.
“I will make them run, run, run, and then they have to immediately sit down and breathe deeply and get themselves back under control,” she said, “because I tell them all the time, ‘Who’s in charge of you? You are.’ I do feel like this has helped the kids realize they do have an outlet for that energy.”
The club is so much more than just friends running laps in groups. Prior to the nearly hourlong sessions, Briggs will sit them down and speak to them — the calm before the storm, so to speak. There, she will speak with them about life lessons.
For example, prior to Tuesday’s running session, she emphasized to them that they are a team, and that they are there for one another no matter what. Using an example of her son falling during a track meet while jumping hurdles, she said if the club’s students want to get better at something in life, they are allowed to make mistakes along the way. “We are not perfect,” Briggs said.
In addition to physical exercise — in a time when 1 in 5 children and adolescents across the United States are obese— she teaches the students lessons on kindness, compassion, leadership and being a good person. Leading by example, Briggs, a dedicated runner herself, will often run alongside the children, encouraging them or giving them high fives.
“I am extremely happy that (Briggs) is trying to teach them an alternative and to get outside” and away from video games and phones, said Kelsey Norman Principal Julie Munn. “She is trying to teach them healthy habits starting at a young age.”
There are club rules, Briggs said. If a student’s grades fall off, or if they neglect their tutoring or disciplinary issues crop up, they can’t join the club or will be kicked out of it — which has happened.
The students, she said, “have to learn this (club) is a privilege, not a right. Academics comes first — period.”
Since Briggs established the club, she sometimes had to dip into her own pockets to purchase club-related items, including a celebration party at the end of the year as well as charm necklaces given to each club member. When a student reaches a milestone — such as 100 miles accumulated — they are given a silver running shoe charm.
“Those are coveted,” she said.
To help defer some of the club’s costs, a GoFundMe account was established this past weekend. According to the account’s creator, Briggs “never asks for anything and would never let you know how much money she spends out of her own pocket to make this club special for the kids … (the club) truly is changing the lives of students.” She and the club “are kind of a big deal” at the school.
As of Wednesday afternoon, $690 of a $1,000 goal had already been raised.
“When I started this club seven years ago, I knew I wouldn’t get paid for it,” she said. “I just wanted to do something that would directly benefit the kids; I just wanted to do this for them. I love doing it. These kids, this student body, is a part of my life. I want what’s best for them.”
“I’m extremely proud of Sheenah,” Munn added. “She volunteers her time after working full-time at school to help the kids. She has completely done everything out of her own pocket because she loves the kids and knows how important a positive relationship is with the students.”
“I know every kid’s name in this school,” Briggs said.