While school may not be physically in session due to COVID-19, teachers across the Tullahoma City School District have been forced to adapt to online methods. Additionally, educators are encouraged to still keep in touch with their students, whether that be through phone calls or video calls.
One teacher, Chris Clemens is taking that a step – or in actuality, a few thousand steps – further. Each weekday, the Jack T. Farrar Elementary physical education teacher will run through the neighborhoods where his students reside.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I love to run,” Clemens said. “We were tasked with still keeping in touch with our students, during our distance learning time away from school. I thought that I’ll put the two things together. I’ll include my love of running and divide our school zones that we serve each day.”
Since forming this daily routine, Clemens has divided his five different daily runs, which he has posted about on his personal Facebook page. He says that he starts at his workplace at 10 a.m. and runs for an hour and sometimes nearly two hours. Along the way, he will stop and talk to some of his students and take what he calls, “safe distance selfies” with those he sees while he is out.
On Mondays, Clemens makes his way through Prince Properties, Southgate and Whispering Oaks. Tuesday’s schedule includes a run through South Franklin, Tullahoma Village and a few surrounding neighborhoods.
Wednesday’s run includes trips to Oak Park, Sunset and adjacent roads. On Thursday’s he can be found making his way through Blue Creek, Princeton Fields, Hermitage, Lemont, Glade and Shea Haven. Clemens then completes his weekly runs by traveling down Turkey Creek and Ridgeline Roads and the outlying areas as well.
“My daily goal is to run to all of those zones to check on the kids,” Clemens said. “I want to check on them and give them some familiarity and something to possibly look forward to on a weekly basis. It just kind of grew from there.
“I started calling it, ‘It’s not about the miles, it’s about the smiles.’ I always tag all my posts with that, because it really isn’t about how far I run or what I’m running. It’s about making that connection with the students who I would normally see on a daily basis when we were in school.”
While developing a schedule, Clemens also said that he keeps student safety in mind. Before each of his runs, he will post a photo on his Facebook page, detailing what he will be wearing during his daily run.
“The first time that I did this, I noticed that there some other adults running,” Clemens said. “I thought to myself that I had probably do something a little different to keep our kids safe. So each morning, I take what I call a ‘safety selfie’ with my phone and post it on Facebook to let the parents know what I’ll be wearing, so the kids will know who to look for. I didn’t want our kids to just run out and come upon a stranger.”
During his runs, Clemens has said that he has had students who want to run with him. He said he’s ok with it, but only for short distances.
“I always want to remind them and let them know that they are welcome to run with me, as long as they stay in that neighborhood,” Clemens said. “I always want to make sure that they are safe and nothing of harm would ever come for them.”
After starting his running in early April, Clemens said that he’s heard quite a bit of positives. He said he continues to adhere to his schedule for the foreseeable future, even if that includes running in the rain just to help him and his students find consistency.
“The first time that I did this, I didn’t have this grand plan. Overtime it evolved into a routine,” Clemens said. “It’s been a joy for me. During this time away from our kids, you start to feel lost. I think the kids are in a lost situation as well. They didn’t ask for all this and all this chaos that they’ve been thrust into. Just giving them that weekly type of routine I think helps them, but it also helps me as well.”