NYer Of The Week: Shawanda Weems Moves Her Students To Become Better Runners
After she was diagnosed with diabetes, the latest New Yorker of the Week embarked on a personal journey to get her Bronx students off the couch and into a pair of sneakers. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
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Bronx teacher Shawanda Weems is on a mission.
"Our students live very sedentary lifestyles. They do nothing after school. That's not totally accurate, they go home and play video games for hours on end," says Weems.
Her journey began eight years ago. With few options for organized sports at PS/MS 15 in the University Heights section of the Bronx, the English-language arts teacher enlisted the help of New York Road Runners.
"We saw that our kids weren't active, we saw they were not doing well in school. It really wasn't a hard decision. It was, 'What can we do to make our students more productive and well-rounded people?" says Weems.
With the financial backing of NYRR, her idea sprinted out of the blocks. Now, twice a week at 7 a.m., Weems pushes her students to become motivated young adults.
"I think what's unique about Shawanda is not only her capability, it's her warmth, it's her dignity, it's her integrity. It's her quality of person that's reaching kids and changing kids and making kids be the best that they can be," says Cliff Sperber, NYRR's executive director of youth and community services.
Her winning style, appears to be working.
"I wanted to join because I noticed that I eat a lot and I wanted to get rid of the junk in my system," says runner Kenneth Campbell.
"I like when she's hard on us because it motivates me to progress and go faster. So if she says, 'Oh do 25 laps, run fast,' it motivates me to exceed and progress on another level," says runner Christie Severino.
Here, progress matters more than who's first to the finish line.
"The differences are personal for each child as far as what their goal-setting is but the basis is goal-setting and how it spills over into the classroom and their overall academic lives," says Weems. "It definitely transforms our students' lives."
It's a transformation that keeps Weems running.
"To see them flourish and blossom over the years, to know that they, at 18 and 19, attribute it to their work on the track team is just phenomenal. That gets us going through the next season," she says.
So, for working to build healthy hearts and minds, Shawanda Weems is the latest New Yorker of the Week.
For more information on youth running programs, visit nyrr.org.