A valued tradition that for six years has benefitted students with special needs at South Side High School and South Side Middle School will continue thanks to a $2,000 donation from the Tommy Brull Foundation.
Through national non-profit organization Achilles Kids’ Run to Learn program, a free school initiative that provides physical activity integrated with educational components, students in the high school and middle school’s CORE program take part in a virtual marathon in their gym classes from September to June.
The 26.2-mile route is plotted on a map of their area and, on a weekly basis, the children do laps equivalent to a portion of the route, according to the Achilles Kids website. Teachers incorporate geography, social studies, reading and math skills into the activity. Each year, students receive a pair of sneakers as their reward during a grand ceremony that includes their supportive general education peers.
But physical education teachers Meaghan Healey and Carolyn Ferguson, who run the initiative in Rockville Centre, discovered that Achilles Kids lacked funding this year to provide sneakers. The teachers began thinking of ways to begin fundraising, but before long, the Tommy Brull Foundation got a call from an unnamed resident about the situation and swooped in to help.
“I got a phone call, he explained the program and I said, ‘Well that fits exactly into the types of things we like to promote and support,” said Martin Brull, founder of the Tommy Brull Foundation. The Rockville Centre-based organization has been dedicated to raising money for people with physical, mental and emotional challenges since 2008, when Brull founded the nonprofit in memory of his brother, Tommy, who died in an accident in 1999. The $2,000 will go toward sneakers for the 40 kids who are set to complete the year-long marathon.
“It’s important from the sense of accomplishing something and it’s important from health and fitness,” South Side Middle School Principal Shelagh McGinn said of the program, “but it’s also really important for . . . the inclusivity of the entire school.”
Eighth-graders help their classmates with special needs throughout the program as part of their community service projects. At the high school, general education students support the runners through the school’s Unified Physical Education program. On the final day at each school — on May 30 and 31 this year — they cheer on the CORE students as they come down the homestretch of the final lap.
“The kids know when they come into gym class that they have to do their laps first, and they know what it’s for, so they really work toward it a lot,” Healey said. “…It gets the kids excited about being active and the reward they get is certainly wonderful.”
In addition to certificates sent to the children as they reach milestones and a half marathon medal when they reach the midway point of 13.1 miles — provided by Achilles Kids — the sneakers are the ultimate prize. General education students decorate and personalize the wrapped sneakers, and the runners stand on podiums, Healey said, “as if they were getting an Olympic medal.”
McGinn noted that it helps teach all involved, especially the supporters, how to interact with those who are “differently-abled,” adding, “it promotes empathy, understanding, acceptance and kindness.”