My Experience at Gotwals Elementary School

Editor’s Note: Heather McDanel is the founding Executive Director of Students Run Philly Style, and was one of the health leaders interviewed for the 2nd edition of “Leading Healthy Change In Our Communities.”

February 2013…It was a cold and grey December day when I pulled into the parking lot in front of Gotwals Elementary School in Norristown.  The wind whipped up as I made my way to the cheery entrance of the school.  If you’re not someone that goes to elementary schools every day, it’s a pleasant experience to feel the buzz of uninhibited youth, and the energy in the halls that is the fabulous result.  I entered Katie Sortino’s classroom and was met by journalists. Yes, third and fourth grade journalists.  They had their media badges and reporter’s notebooks to prove it.

In quiet confidence, one by one, the students asked me what drove me to do what I did to help Philadelphia’s kids become healthier. “How far did you run today?” asked one…followed by “How hard is it to do your work?” and of course, “How far is a marathon, really?”  They did their homework.  They knew my story. They knew Students Run Philly Style, and they asked great questions.

I left Gotwals Elementary School inspired. Inspired by young people who are curious about the world and who want to tell the world’s stories.  Inspired by a teacher who created a space in which students were confident to take risks.  Inspired by a former reporter who is passing on the craft and profession of journalism to the next generation.


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