Originally published July 15, 2019 in the Sydney Morning Herald.

By Kristie Kellahan

Chatswood High School teacher Emily McLachlan knew that running could change lives.

When she developed the ‘Run Around Australia’ challenge, she was hoping to integrate technology into Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) in a meaningful way.

What she didn’t expect was that her initiative would spread to more than 35 schools, with over 1000 students running their way virtually around Australia each week. In the process, she has been recognized in the Learning Edge search for NSW’s most innovative educator.

“I set about designing a physical activity challenge that every student, in every school, regardless of ability, resources, time pressures or facilities could participate in,” McLachlan says.

Students digitally record the distances of their runs, plotting them out on an interactive map that tracks how far along they are on a virtual road trip of Australia.

Across NSW, students have already accumulated more than 5600 kilometers, the equivalent of running to the top of Cape York and on to Mount Isa.

There’s a competitive element too, with schools vying for bragging rights via Google MyMap, where weekly distances are plotted using school crests as markers.

The program that McLachlan, a PDHPE teacher, designed not only increases adolescent physical activity but can be used to support learning across the curriculum in geography, maths and technology studies.

“The response to this challenge has been truly amazing,” she says.

“Teachers report their students are happier, more engaged in learning and more focused in class after performing their run and that they have seen important social and emotional outcomes improve because their students are working as a positive cohesive team toward a common goal.”

Driven by a desire to find innovative solutions to the declining number of young people who are sufficiently physically active, McLachlan says students who are active achieve better academic results, experience more positive mental health outcomes and are obviously more physically healthy than those who don’t.

“I also wanted to help young people create healthy habits that they can take with them long after school,” she says.

Young people who were previously inactive are now asking for permission to run longer and are always looking for a way to further their distance each week, McLachlan says.

Students who previously did not have a connection are running together and creating solid bonds.

And those who previously could not sit still long enough in class to focus on a task are now concentrating for longer, sprinting towards their academic goals.

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    Teacher in the running for award thanks to fitness drive
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    Teacher in the running for award thanks to fitness drive
    Run Around Australia program motivates students to increase their activity levels during school.
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