Running, jumping, throwing, cheers and laughter are frequent scenes at the Bellingham Public Schools’ All-City Fifth Grade Track & Field Meet as students from each elementary school, adorned in school-branded penny jerseys, convene together at Civic Stadium for a day of events and friendly competition.
Unofficial results records for the meet date back to 1970, meaning this year’s June 3, 2022 occurrence (back for the first time since 2019 due to COVID-19 protocols) marks a span of at least 50 years during which the event has taken place.
Those in attendance can attest to the palpable energy and buzz generated by the meet with a race, jump, or throw always in progress at any given time.
Hundreds of students representing each school participate throughout the day, led by the friendly encouragement and coaching of staff and volunteers. When not competing, students in grandstand seating pods yell cheers of encouragement for classmates in action.
Various distances of track races, hurdles, high jump, standing long jump, shot put and softball throw are among the opportunities for students. Many events feature various groupings or heats that lead to finals.
Once compiled, a public address announcer can be heard sharing results as students are celebrated and cheered for by classmates. The much-anticipated 4x100m relay race closes out the meet each year.
“We’re working to help students feel successful with something, and something they’ve worked toward in PE class,” said Melanie Flink, chair of the elementary PE department and Happy Valley PE teacher. “The ultimate goal is as they leave fifth grade, we’ve provided a great segue in physical literacy as they continue to grow older.”
Long before the day of the meet, students sign up for an event at school and take time to learn and train during PE classes. An impressive organizational coordination effort loads sign-up lists into the timing and results system ahead of the big day.
The experience for fifth graders at the meet represents a culmination of development that begins many grades earlier.
“Some of the skills used at the fifth grade meet begin as early as Kindergarten or even Promise Kindergarten,” Flink said. “As students get older each year, we introduce age-appropriate track and field skills and concepts. So, by the time we’re in fifth grade for the meet, it is a culmination of not only that year but years prior as well.”
As an annual event, there is extensive planning and preparation fueled by the elementary physical education (PE) teaching team across the district.
“The elementary PE team starts working early in the school year on planning the event,” Flink said. “That involves everything from looking back at notes on what to change or make better, as well as individual event coordination. We work together on curriculum for how to teach track & field events and logistical planning.”
Closer to the meet date each year, Flink coordinates additional BPS staff to volunteer at the event along with students in the PE program at Western Washington University. Fifth grade teaching staff, the BPS transportation team, and the BPS food services team play integral roles to transport and feed students during the all-day event.
“There are goosebumps and happy tears,” Flink said of seeing the coordination and planning culminate each year. “It’s an awesome day, my favorite of the whole year, and a rewarding day. It’s so special to see and the work always pays off.”