April 18, 2019 --
Before they arrived at the start line of the Vancouver Sun Run, a group of 21 Harwin Elementary School students had already completed a long journey. Their trip, which started in September, honed their physical fitness and helped them make long strides in their literacy skills.
The Sun Run was held on Sunday, and the Harwin students were there in their bright pink Warriors t-shirts, accompanied by eight adults connected in various ways to the school. In a field of about 40,000 participants, the highly-visible Harwin group completed all 10 kilometres of the run, which started on Georgia Street and ended at B.C. Place Stadium.
And it wasn't sunny. Rain and hail were on the menu instead. But the Harwin kids – who ranged from Grade 4 to Grade 7 – met the challenge before them and made the Sun Run part of an unforgettable experience in the big city.
"We're really proud of our kids, really proud of our staff for stepping up and being part of it and taking the weekend to come down with us," said Harwin Principal Linda McGraw. "We had three teachers that joined us for the weekend and we had one parent. And the kids, they worked very hard to get there."
The work began at the start of the school year when students interested in the Sun Run trip joined an after-school running program organized by Marnie Alexander, Harwin's Community Schools Coordinator. McGraw, meanwhile, coordinated a literacy plan that tied in with learning goals, reading levels and school curriculum.
"The kids ran two or three times a week and if we weren't able to get outside with them in the winter we did Boot Camps in the school so it was still physical training," McGraw said. "And then they had to read – so the literacy piece of it – they had to read their way to Vancouver. So 750 kilometres, (each student) had to read approximately 1,500 pages. Every page was worth half a kilometre. At the end of the book or whatever they read, they had several different projects they could do. I did up a guideline for them with expectations and everything. They could do a book report, they could do posters – there were all different kinds of things they could do just to show that they had read the different books."
The Harwin contingent traveled to Vancouver on a chartered bus, a mode of transportation that always comes with a significant price tag attached. But, thanks to some serious fundraising efforts in advance of the trip (and sponsorships from Canadian Tire and Spotless Dry Cleaners), each student had to pay only $100 out of pocket.
The bus left Prince George on Friday and took its passengers to their home-away-from-home for the weekend, the Rosedale on Robson. On Saturday, an educational visit to the H.R. McMillan Space Centre was on the agenda and so was some flat-out fun at laser tag.
Sunday was run day. At the start line and on the course, the students were accompanied by McGraw and Alexander, as well as by teachers Bethany Watts, Chantel Morphy and Tom Makowsky. Harwin's two Aboriginal Education Workers, Lisa Walters and Larissa Montgomery, and parent Nicola Smith, were also in their running gear. Making sure all the pink-shirted students were safe and accounted for was of primary concern so firm rules were put in place.
"Our kids stood out in the sea of everything else and all of the kids ran with an adult," McGraw said. "We broke them down into their running level. The ones that were fastest ran with an adult who was at their level and could keep up with them, and they were attached to our hips. In a sea of 40,000 people those kids were attached to us so we could never lose sight of them. We had them all the time."
The chilly conditions produced a few grumbles but, ultimately, the rain and hail just added to the experience and the memories. During the run, the Harwin kids – with the slogan "Slow Runners Make Fast Runners Look Good, You're Welcome" and "Prince George" emblazoned on the backs of their shirts – drew plenty of attention from those around them. People were cheering them on and yelling things like "Go Warriors!" and "Go Prince George!"
On Monday, the day after the Sun Run, the Harwin group went to Grouse Mountain. There, they visited an Aboriginal Feast House, met with an elder and took part in a ceremonial dance.
"Even kids that were out of their comfort zone, they got up," Walters said. "You know how if you pulled someone up on stage, they'd be like, 'No, no.' No questions, they all got up (and participated)."
Also during the Monday outing, the students watched an owl presentation at the Grouse Mountain Wildlife Refuge and learned about orphan Grizzly bear cubs Grinder and Coola. The kids even strapped on some snowshoes and trekked up to see the bears, which had just come out of winter hibernation.
"The kids were just so awestruck – it was so cool," McGraw said.
The students were back on the bus Tuesday for the ride home. The adults involved in the trip all noticed much tighter bonds between the kids and saw the older ones take on leadership roles with the younger ones.
In fact, leadership qualities and life skills started developing way back in September and have just continued to grow.
"They learned not only to set some short-term goals, they learned long-term goal-setting," Alexander said. "To decide in September that you want to achieve something that's going to happen in April, that's a real task. That's a really tough thing to do and I think that develops so many life skills that they're going to take with them."
Harwin students (along with a group from Spruceland Elementary School) did the Sun Run for the first time last year. Now that the second edition is in the books for the Harwin kids, more Sun Runs seem inevitable.
"You build one program and then it becomes school culture and it becomes part of what (the students) look forward to," Alexander said.
"The younger kids, like Kindergarten kids, know what Sun Run is now and they're getting excited."