The entire community at West Hartford’s Whiting Lane Elementary School recently participated in the Rock n’ Run event.
By Ronni Newton
During recess on a recent Friday, students at West Hartford’s Whiting Lane Elementary School – dressed in matching t-shirts with a different color for each grade – spent their recess running or walking laps around the track while energetic music blasted from speakers and “Flash,” the school’s owl mascot, high-fived everyone each time they passed by.
The school-wide Rock n’ Run event – organized by the PTO and parent volunteers – promotes physical fitness, enhanced school spirit, and raises money directly. Students solicit sponsorships from family or friends – some of which may also be matched by employers – and funds raised will be used to support the school’s own weekly food pantry, provide enrichment opportunities, and otherwise enhance the students’ educational experience at Whiting Lane, PTO Vice President and event co-organizer Emily Baffaro said.
According to PTO President and Rock n’ Run co-organizer Leslie Luksberg, there are currently 22 Whiting Lane families that receive bags of groceries through the school’s food pantry every week. The funds raised will facilitate author visits, fulfill teacher “wish list” requests, and be used to purchase recess equipment, among other uses, Luksberg said.
“The great thing about this is it’s run by the the parents, so 100% goes back to the school,” Baffaro said.
“We run it so there’s no ‘middleman,'” parent volunteer Casey Gruber said. Most school fundraising companies keep a large share of the funds raised, 50% or more.
The Whiting Lane community gets to choose their own prizes, which are awarded based on classrooms meeting or exceeding their goals, rather than individual students. All students received a free t-shirt – courtesy of platinum sponsor F45 Training, and rather than “junky prizes,” classes can earn extra recess, PJ day, a no homework day, a movie party, a delivery of ice cream from a local shop, obstacle courses, and the right to “slime” a teacher – which will happen in June. The top prize is a glow-in-the-dark party.
This is the sixth year for the Rock n’ Run. The event was canceled completely in 2020 due to COVID-19, and in 2021 was held in a modified format in two separate locations on the school grounds in order to keep students cohorted.
“We haven’t been able to have a lot of community events because of COVID,” Baffaro said. This year, parents were able to attend, and stood around the edge of the track, offering encouragement.
“It’s so nice to see everyone back,” added Luksberg.
“I’m just overjoyed today to be out here with our entire student body, the entire staff, and our amazing parents at this wonderful community event,” said Whiting Lane Principal Karen Kukish, who also joined the students for some laps around the track.
Lauren Lansing, the owner of platinum sponsor F45, has a second and third grader at Whiting Lane and said she was eager to support the event. “It’s awesome for the kids to be learning about lifelong fitness activities,” she said, noting that F45 also has a “prodigy” program for children. Her children also participate in running groups through West Hartford’s Fleet Feet Sports.
The fundraising goal for the 2022 Rock n’ Run was $22,000, and after the funds were collected Baffaro reported that seven classes exceeded their goal – and she was thrilled that school-wide a total of$30,526 was raised.
Each time a student completed a lap, parent volunteers initialed a box on the back of their t-shirt marking off the number of laps completed. “Older kids have a goal,” Baffaro said. Some students ran at top speed – at least briefly – while other kept to a steady walking pace. Sardillis donated snacks, which the students enjoyed after their laps were completed, before the end of recess.
“Whiting Lane is a very special school and I’m very proud to be part of it,” Kukish said. “I can’t begin to express my gratitude to our parents.”
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