El Roble Turkey Trot raises heart rates, money for school fitness center

When a gym teacher tells middle schoolers to hit the track for 16 minutes, you’re more likely to encounter sighs than smiles.

This was not the case on Wednesday during the annual El Roble Turkey Trot, when a good cause and festive atmosphere put some spring in students’ steps.

Prior to the event, now in its fifth year, students are asked to enlist their families and members of the community to sponsor them with a flat or per-lap donation. All money raised is used to help maintain the physical education department’s fitness center. With a take of $4,000, last year was a slow year; over the years, the run has raised as much as $5,768.

Any amount helps, given the wear and tear the school’s fitness equipment receives at the hands of El Roble students and of residents who use the fitness center for city exercise classes.

Turkey Trot organizer Debbie Foster, clad in a plush turkey hat, took a moment to list some of her department’s most pressing needs. Of the fitness center’s six elliptical machines, two are on their last legs and need to be replaced. There are also a torn seat pads that need to be reupholstered, and the fitness center is in the market for some small steppers. 

Students were also asked to bring a canned good or other nonperishable food item to add to the ongoing food drive hosted by El Roble’s student government. They were graded on how many times they circled the track, with their donation counting toward an extra lap. Many students upped the ante by bringing in two or three canned goods.

The kids’ enthusiasm for the Turkey Trot is just one of the reasons Ms. Foster—who has been a PE teacher at El Roble for 26 years—loves her job.

“I love junior high,” she said. “You have cyclical years. One year, you’ll have an awesome group of kids and another, not so much. This year is absolutely awesome. The kids are just nice, nice. It’s fun to get to school because they are so sweet.”

It was déjà vu for Corinne Jayaweera when she showed up to the Turkey Trot in support of her 8th grade daughter Kaylee-Anna, because Ms. Foster was her teacher too. After Kaylee-Anna completed a respectable seven laps, eight with her food donation, Ms. Foster insisted on posing for a photograph with the girl and her mother: “Let’s get the three generations!”

Jeff Hammill, perhaps best known locally for serving on the city’s Planning Commission, also showed up to watch his 7th grade son Andrew run.

“He asked me if I would come by, Mr. Hammill said. “As a teenager, when they ask you to be here—so often they don’t—you take that opportunity.”

During third period on Wednesday, 200 kids put their best foot forward, their efforts urged on with blasting music. Tunes like “Apple Bottom Jeans” by T-Pain and a techno version of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” could be heard all over the school grounds. There was one smaller pair of feet speeding by as well, when 7th grader Anica Amato’s 5-year-old brother Ezra hit the track for a lap.

“It was good,” said a slightly winded 7th grader, Tristan Perez, after the run’s conclusion. “I think it’s really fun running.”

Ms. Foster and her PE team will continue to collect contributions towards the fitness center through Monday, December 2, with checks made payable to the El Roble PE Boosters. Best Buy Montclair has donated 10 stuffed animals that will be given to students who have raised the most money.

—Sarah Torribio



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