Tori Gelbert knew this school year would be unlike any other, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, when the Culpeper County School Board decided on July 27 to adopt a blended learning plan that would divvy up students’ time between in-person and virtual instruction, her thoughts began circling around one concern in particular.
Gelbert, the principal of Emerald Hill Elementary School, found herself deeply concerned that the decreased time together between teachers and students in a traditional classroom setting would have a very adverse affect on both parties’ mental and physical health.
Never one to sit on her hands, the former high school cross country and track coach sprang into action immediately.
“Before school started, but after teachers had reported [in early August], I walked around and talked to teachers and staff about how they were feeling,” Gelbert said last week. “Naturally, the conversations led to the importance of taking care of ourselves and making sure we are healthy—both mentally and physically.”
The result of Gelbert’s fast start is the Emerald Hill Elementary Virtual Staff Bonding 5K, which will take place this Wednesday at 8 a.m.
Over 75 percent of the school’s staff—or 60 members to be exact—will be participating in the event. Many of them will run or walk their way through Yowell Meadow Park, though some will be elsewhere in an effort to avoid overcrowding the park’s trails.
Regardless of the location, they won’t just be running or walking a typical 5K race.
That’s where the virtual part comes in.
Gelbert wanted to expand on the concept of a normal 5K in order to run neck-and-neck with a year that’s been anything but that. So she came up with the idea that each participant will create a video of themselves either just before starting or right after finishing their race.
Following the conclusion of the event, all of the videos will be combined to create a single video that students will be able to view online.
“In the climate we’re currently in, I knew making a video of our dedicated staff members participating in an activity that’s great for both your physical and mental fitness would be the best way to reach our students,” Gelbert said. “We want to show them that we, as adults, continue to value healthy habits and encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle.”
Gelbert has been working hard for the better part of two months now to encourage her staff members to pursue their individual fitness goals, as well as properly prepare them for the task at hand. She put together an optional training plan for those who have never participated in a 5K before, which is something she said has been well-received.
“Many of the staff [already] had goals of starting to work out,” she said. “I wanted to help them build up their activity levels and work toward completing their 5K.”
In addition to Gelbert’s workout plan, EHE third-grade teacher Caryn Shaffer has also been helping her colleagues prepare for the event by teaching yoga classes every Wednesday in the school’s gymnasium.
On race day, each of the participants will receive a finishing certificate and medal, along with a virtual 5K t-shirt. There will also be prizes given for the fastest male and female runners, best video, best costume and fastest team (by grade level).
Gelbert added that several local businesses and community members have stepped forward to donate items like race bibs, water, granola bars, coupons to local restaurants and various other treats. Those things will go into race bags that will be given to each of the participants.
“I am super excited because we have worked with many community partners to help make this such a great event for our staff,” she proclaimed. “We haven’t talked about doing this yearly [yet], but I can see it easily being turned into a yearly event.”
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