Sebastopol teacher puts shoes on kids’ feet

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Sebastopol gym teacher Myriah Volk has embarked on a personal mission to ensure that each K-8 student in her classes has a pair of well-fitting athletic shoes.

The idea caught fire the day she found herself putting duct tape on the shoes of a fifth-grader.

“The number of kids who show up for PE with holey shoes, shoes that don’t fit or shoes with the sole hanging off is mind-boggling,” said the 39-year-old fitness trainer. “One boy showed up to run the mile wearing his uncle’s boots that were three sizes too big because he didn’t have anything else.”

Volk says she totally gets it, since there was a time when athletic shoes were out of her family’s budget, too.

“My parents were going through a divorce and broke, so my softball coach took me shopping for a good pair of cleats because mine had holes,” she recalled.

Worn-down or improper shoes are not just bad for the growing body, they are not good for the mind.

“Feeling self-conscious in the PE setting because of something like this completely takes away the child’s ability to participate freely and without worry,” Volk said.

She never loses sight of the fact that the few hours she spends with these students each day may very well be the only ones in which they are moving, running and interacting.

“I see young children struggling with weight issues and know how easily that can lead to feelings of depression and low self-esteem.”

Focusing first on the kids at Reach School and Sun Ridge Charter School, where she teaches, and Brook Haven Elementary, where she volunteers, Volk started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy athletic shoes for students who cannot afford them. Setting a goal of $1,000, she raised $1,350 in less than two weeks.

Having surpassed her initial goal, Volk was ready to shut the campaign down, but a friend convinced her to keep it open. She is now hoping to raise enough to expand the program to other K-8 schools around the county and possibly even make it an annual event.

Dan Aldridge of Santa Rosa’s Heart & Sole Sports is giving her a 25 percent discount on all purchases, and school principals are providing student names and shoe sizes.

For Volk, this project is about more than just shoes. It is about getting kids away from their computers and video games and into being physically active for a while each day.

Her dedication to good health and fitness extends beyond her regular teaching schedule. She offers a free all-ages fitness class once a week and also works weekly with a small group of middle school girls in her home gym.

“I could go on and on because this is my mission, and I’m very passionate about it,” she said. “I love these kids I work with, and I want them to all be healthy and feel good about themselves.”

For more information about Volk’s campaign, visit gofundme.com/shoesforkidsvolk.

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