Running teaches students to persevere in life
It brings new meaning to the notion of running for your life.
On the northwest side of Britannia Secondary School in east Vancouver, there’s an amber-coloured portable. Inside is Streetfront, an alternative education program for at-risk youth.
“If you’ve got tighty-whites, wear them,” said Trevor Stokes, advising his class about Sunday’s BMO Vancouver Marathon.
In the small classroom with a large whiteboard and roughly 20 desks, Stokes teaches a small program that emphasizes physical activity. It uses running as a model for life.
This weekend, Streetfront will see its students compete in the 100th instalment of the marathon.
After school, Stokes — who himself has run over 20 marathons — lists out the plan for Sunday’s marathon. The class covers attire, socks, shoes, hydration, ibuprofen, power gels, bus tickets.
In their seats, on their desks, leaning on the back wall of the classroom, each student listens attentively to Stokes’ advice. Sixteen of them will run this weekend.
“My very first marathon experience, I was 13 years old,” said Frankie Joseph, 17. “I heard about the running and stuff and came to school and said ‘I’m not going to run a marathon! Who’s gonna run a marathon? That’s crazy!’”
He did do it, though. This Sunday, Joseph will run in his eighth marathon.
“I started going and I kept running with Trevor. It’s motivational when you start running. Everything about running is mental. It’s mind over matter. As long as you tell yourself to keep going, you keep going.”
That’s the idea behind the program.
Stokes describes Streetfront “almost like a school rehab.” Most students are referred to the program after having trouble in the traditional school system. They come to Streetfront due to a variety of issues: violence, poverty, substance abuse, trauma.
The three-person program led by a youth worker, a student support worker, and a teacher, began in 1977. Two educators who worked with troubled youth had decided to approach education differently.
“They felt that a physical model would really work by taking students outside of the class, extending the classroom to the outdoor world,” Stokes said. “It was all about self-esteem. They wanted the kids to feel they could accomplish things.”
In 2001, Stokes introduced marathon running. Their field trips have led students as far as Seattle to run.
“We had to create those sort of situations where the merits of the kids were so blatant and so incredible that the world kind of had to take notice.”
Joseph has since graduated from Streetfront, which teaches students in grades eight to 10. He has since received a full scholarship to the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
He hopes to one day start a nonprofit organization that aids youth in Vancouver’s east side.
“You just learn to persevere and you don’t stop. You learn that stopping is not an option,” Joseph said. “Whatever your mind tells you, you can do.”
Stokes recalls his very first student marathoner; he ran with slip-on basketball shoes.
“By the end of the run it was like he was wearing flip-flops because the elastic that was holding his shoes had basically broken,” he said. “Every step you could see his heel coming out of the shoes. He was tough as nails. Didn’t complain. Kept on moving.”
Stokes, who has taught for 20 years, was first introduced to Streetfront as a substitute teacher.
In 2000, he became the full-time instructor teaching everything from math to English, to roughly 20 students per year. He says the model is 60 per cent academics and 40 per cent physical education.
Program graduate William Dugray, 17, says his success was down to Stokes, 100 per cent.
“What makes this program is Trevor,” Dugray said. “When he speaks to you, you know it’s going to help. If you don’t follow any of those things, he’s not going to harp on you . . . You put effort in things, you get rewards back.”
“Without Trevor, this program would just not happen,” he said, noting that one day he’d like to become a teacher or coach.
On Sunday, Dugray will run his fifth marathon.
Since starting in 2001, Stokes says the program has had a 98 per cent success rate. Many of its students, like Dugray and Joseph, return to partake in the physical activity portion of the program.
The program itself is funded by the Strachan Hartley Legacy Foundation, Contributing to the Lives of Inner City Kids Foundation, and by the Vancouver School Board. Marathoners are sponsored by BMO Vancouver Marathon.
“Not every kid is 100 per cent successful. We struggle with lots of kids, but for the most part, I look at the prospects of the kids that come through us and I’m pretty proud of what they’re gonna do,” Stokes said.
“They’re going to have skills that will settle the stormy waters that are ahead of them, and they’ll find some resolve and be good citizens.”
Above the classroom whiteboards with all the scribbled details and instructions for their weekend marathon, a small poster echoes the plan in fewer words:
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”