I Toowú Klatseen participants complete the program's final run

Last Thursday afternoon was dark and drizzly, but the children and parents of the I Toowú Klatseen running program braved the inauspicious weather to complete a 5K, demonstrating the program’s values of physical and spiritual strength.

I Toowú Klatseen, which translates to “strengthen your spirit,” is a 10-week afterschool running program that teaches children in the third to fifth grades about Tlingit values. The curriculum uses traditional stories, Tlingit language lessons and culturally relevant games to instill respect for land and community, while giving kids a healthy outlet for their pent-up school day energy.

Participants completed three laps around the nature trail for a total of 3.1 miles (5 kilometers). Program volunteers Kim Wickman, Marc Lutz and Tlingit language teacher Virginia Oliver also ran or walked the route to ensure that none of the young runners were hurt or lost.

After completing the run, Dima Aleksieva and Hailey Gablehouse cooled down in the evergreen elementary school gym. The girls displayed their I Toowú Klatseen medals, which were made out of carved wood. Each child who completed the route received a medal and T-shirt featuring the program logo.

The curriculum fostered “vitally needed” emotional and social learning, said Oliver. When they weren’t running, singing or playing games, the students sat in a talking circle, discussing respect, inner strength and community bonds. Koó.at latóow Kim —or Teacher Kim — would ask the group questions about their role models, or about times they helped a friend.

The original curriculum was the result of a collaboration between the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Juneau-based domestic violence and sexual assault shelter AWARE, and Southeast Roadrunners.

Kay Larson of BRAVE, a domestic violence prevention group whose name stands for Building Respect and Valuing Everyone, has watched the children’s progress with pride. She was particularly impressed to see the young runners learn to pace themselves. During the first few sessions, many participants alternated between bursts of impressive speed and periods of walking or sitting. By the end, they understood the importance of a steady and sustainable pace. “They’ve learned some restraint,” Larson said, smiling.

She has also appreciated the children’s thoughtful contributions to the talking circle and their innovative spirits. “They add their own spins to every activity,” she said. One of her fondest memories of I Toowú Klatseen is a moment early in the program, when she observed two runners who hadn’t been getting along at school agree to be friends. She has also loved watching the volunteers interact with the kids. “One of the best parts for me has been watching Marc and Virginia and Kim work together as a team of coaches,” Larson said.

As a reward for their hard work, the young runners’ last session was a party, complete with games, decorations, tasty food and the pièce de résistance — an evaluative survey. The results will be used to determine whether the program achieved its educational goals, BRAVE representative Maleah Nore explained in an earlier interview.

If program operators can demonstrate the effectiveness of their curriculum, it will be easier to obtain funding for future versions of I Toowú Klatseen. “Our hope is, if the program is successful, that groundwork will be laid,” Nore said.

Whatever the outcome of the survey, Oliver plans to incorporate elements of the curriculum into her teaching and possibly establish a regular anti-bullying circle using the I Toowú Klatseen model. She described the program as “a beacon for kids.”

Of the nine total runners, six completed the final run on Thursday. The three who weren’t able to attend will be given the opportunity to complete a make-up run at a later date.


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