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Ruch Outdoor Community School students christen a new field of dreams

Students at Ruch Outdoor Community School rang in the completion of the school’s new track in an appropriate way: running laps in jog-a-thon Monday afternoon.

“I’m most excited that the day is finally here ... and we finally get to run here,” said Faith Kirkwood, a second-grader, stopping for a paper cupful of water from a stand at the northeast corner of the field. Then she was off again, treading alongside her classmates on the smooth black stretch of pavement.

Gone is the dust that was kicked up from the old track with every footfall. No longer do students have to dodge starthistle and other weeds that would poke at their ankles. Now, a green expanse of fresh, well fed grass stretches across the inside of the track with well defined edges and clearly marked lanes.

“Oh, my gosh, this is amazing,” is how Julie Barry, principal at Ruch, summed up the comments she said she’s heard from community members.

“That’s the tagline: ‘That is amazing,’” she said.

The district celebrated the completion of the project at Ruch, Medford School District’s only K-8 campus, with a ribbon-cutting, before students took over for laps, to the beat of dance remixes of ’80s songs.

Barry, along with Lynda Hickey, president of the school’s parent-teacher organization, kicked off the event by recounting the conversation that started it all: Hickey told Barry that she dreamed of having a newer, safer field and track for the students to use.

That was 16 months ago. Facilities Director Ron Havniear said that the massive community fundraising effort that followed might set a new record for amount in a single year.

The school community worked to raise just over $80,000, Havniear said. The school district, meanwhile, chipped in over $90,000 to fund the installation of another well and irrigation system to bring new life to the dry, stubby grass that once was a poor substitute for a field.

With the school’s students gathered on the slope bordering the east side of the track, and community members gathered on the bleachers near the school, Barry launched into a series of recognitions and thanks to the various agencies, companies, foundations and individuals who contributed to the track.

Later in the program, Medford Superintendent Bret Champion used his time holding the microphone to give credit back to Barry for her leadership in the project.

“At the heart of everything we see at Ruch School is Julie Barry,” Champion said.

Barry also invited Matt Epstein, a longtime volunteer and community leader in the Applegate Valley, to speak. He wrapped up his short, emotional speech addressing students directly.

“As we look out over the field and track this afternoon, it shows that if you students dream and work hard to achieve your dreams, your dreams can come true,” he said.

After the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, Ruch students streamed onto the track, where a couple of employees from Orangetheory Fitness warmed them up with stretches and exercises.

The kindergarteners, first- and second-graders were eager to get off to the races, even as their teachers cautioned them to pace themselves in the warm, sunny weather.

After a final check for loose shoelaces, a siren wailed and the students were released. Every lap they had checked off by a volunteer as they rounded the last bend represented dollars coming into the school from donors who had made pledges.

Nearby, Avery Jennings and Taylor Gallardo, both third-graders, played a game with their classmates as they waited for their turn in the jog-a-thon.

Gallardo said she is most excited to run and play soccer on the new field.

The old field, Jennings said, “had a whole bunch of thorns on it. It was dirty.”

Jaqui Christie, an Applegate Valley resident whose grandson is in kindergarten at Ruch this year, said the new track will increase his and other students’ opportunities to enjoy the natural setting, having PE and athletic events with the view of nearby mountains.

“I can’t imagine wanting him to go to any other school,” she said. “I think we’re very fortunate to have it.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ruch Elementary students test out their new track during a Jog-a-thon on Monday.