A month before last Friday's Cherry Days 5k Run, Paonia Elementary School's Paonia Parent Organization (PPO) wasn't planning on organizing the event. But when the Paonia High School cross country team announced that after several years it would no longer take on the fundraising event, Cherry Days committee president Bob Bushta called the organization's president, Carrie Johnson. "He said please, please, please," said Johnson.
The PPO had already put on the Mountain Harvest Festival last September and knew what it needed to do, so it said yes. Organizers got Scott Siettmann with ScottMeets, a timing and meet management company, to commit to the date, marking the first time in the race's roughly 11-year history that it was professionally timed. "We wanted to make it feel a bit more professional," said Johnson.
As for getting enough entries to pay for the event and have a little left over for the school, "We weren't sure what to expect," said Johnson. But by race day, 74 had preregistered and several more registered the morning of the race.
Everything was "awesome," said Johnson after the start of the race. She estimated the PPO will make a little money to help fund a mural project planned for the big blank gray wall located on the northeast corner of the school. Paonia artist Seth Weber started outlining the mural about a week ago. Any remaining funds will go toward fun things for kids, said Johnson.
The PPO was established about 15 years by a core group of about a half dozen "super-engaged moms," said Johnson. In recent years it has funded buses for field trips, cooking and Spanish classes, and math, reading and other recognition awards. They also provide weekly snacks for teachers.
The current group of moms is working to provide more outdoor learning opportunities for students, said Johnson. The mural is part of a larger campus improvement project. This year the PPO was awarded a $5,000 "Toolbox for Education" grant from Lowe's to build raised garden beds and a new greenhouse for growing fruits and vegetables.
An outdoor classroom is also in the works. Students will learn lessons indoors, then put them to practical use outdoors. "The biggest goal is to incorporate those foods into healthy snacks," and into the cooking classes. "It's a way to incorporate healthy eating skills," said Johnson.
As for the mural, Weber is documenting the process through time-lapse photography. Johnson said he will be working on it at least through July.