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Let Me Run

Ward 91 By Kim Underwood

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

APRIL 14, 2016 – If you want to know how many publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’ first book or why someone fired Walt Disney early in his career, just ask the boys in the Let Me Run program at Ward Elementary School.

They know that 27 publishers rejected the Dr. Seuss book And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street and that, before Disney created Mickey Mouse, a newspaper editor fired him “because he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

The fourth- and fifth-grade boys participating in the Let Me Run after-school program at Ward do indeed run. There’s more to it than that, though.

Let Me Run is also about building character, and, on Monday – along with having the students do stretches and run – Neb Talley, the Wake Forest sophomore who coaches the team, and the other  coaches talked with the boys about the importance of understanding that sometimes you fail, and, when you do, you can use it as an opportunity to grow.

“I think everyone has failed at something,” he said. “It’s a necessary thing…You have to look at it as an opportunity to do better the next time.”

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In a game designed to help make learning about all that fun, Talley gave Nick Sebesta, the Ward teacher who serves as the assistant coach, and the other adults volunteering as coaches paper plates with the name of someone famous – Dr. Seuss, Walt Disney – written on it.

He had the men take up posts around the field and hold up the paper plates. After reading an example of failure pertaining to someone famous, Talley invited the boys to show who they thought it was about by running to the paper plate.

This bonus running came after more formal running that included a timed mile.

Fourth-grader Jaquan Butler said he likes participating in Let Me Run.

“It’s fun because we do lots of exercise,” Jaquan said. “It helps obesity and stuff.”

“I like running because it gives me more exercise each day and it makes me faster,” said fifth-grader Bryce Jackson, who completed the mile run in 6 minutes and 19 seconds.

Bryce said he has also made new friends and learned about such things as the importance of pacing yourself.

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It’s a good program, said Sebesta, who teaches fourth grade. “I think it’s important for the students to be able to run after school and to have a goal to work toward. I enjoy being outside with them and being able to interact with them outside of the classroom…They know me as Coach Nick rather than Mr. Sebesta.”

Nissa Vogel, who teaches second grade, brought the Let Me Run program to Ward, and she serves as the school liaison for the program, which began this school year.

“We’re the only Let Me Run in Forsyth County,” Vogel said.

Each Let Me Run “season” lasts for seven weeks. The first season at Ward was held in the fall. For each season, she said, “we do teacher nominations for boys that would benefit from an after-school activity that builds character.”

The boys meet with the coaches twice a week. Monday and Wednesday were chosen for this season because those were the days that fit best with Talley’s schedule at Wake Forest.

Vogel also serves as the liaison for the school’s Girls on the Run program at Ward, which she also established. When Vogel taught at Hall-Woodward Elementary School, she organized a Girls on the Run program there, and, when she came to Ward, she organized one there.

Run 19 Wanting to offer something for boys, she did some research and found Let Me Run, a running/character-building program based in Charlotte. According to the Let Me Run website, it enables boys to “learn to express themselves, reach personal goals and improve their overall wellness.” Each session has a theme. Lesson plans include “Real Men Show Their Feelings” and “Everyday Heroes.”   

Vogel knows that both Let Me Run and Girls on the Run have well-served the students who participate.

“I know that they have gotten a better sense of self,” she said. “I know that they have developed better relationships.”

That includes fellow students, parents and other family members, and teachers and other staff members at school, she said.

Vogel’s interest in establishing running programs for students dates to taking up running herself.

“I started running on my own to get in shape,” she said. “I ran a mile for the first time in my life at the age of 32.”

At one point, she was running about 40 miles a week. She and her husband now have two children – Finn is 3 and Eleanor is 2. So, for the moment, the only running she does is with students at Ward (and, no doubt, chasing after her children).

“You have to juggle,” she said. “I will get back to running.”

Talley is a member of the Upsilon Delta chapter of the Chi Psi Fraternity at Wake Forest University. He got in touch with Vogel after someone with the university spoke to fraternity members last spring about some of the volunteering possibilities in the community.

Run 23 He likes to run – in high school in Maryland, he was the captain of the track team – and he wants to serve others.

“I have a passion for running and service,” he said.

So working with Vogel at Ward seemed like a good fit.

Coaching the first season in the fall was gratifying, he said. He saw that, while working to run better, students learned that, if you keep at something, you get better at it.

“It teaches the work ethic,” he said.

This season, Vogel was also able to get running shoes for the Let Me Run boys with the help of Fleet Feet Sports, a local store that has donated shoes to students at a number of local schools.

“They are unbelievable,” Vogel said.

In this instance, she applied to the Brooks shoe manufacturing company for one its Run B’Cause grants.

Each seven-week program culminates with everyone running a 5-kilometer race. On April 23, the boys and men participating in this season will run in the Get Your Rear in Gear race in Charlotte. 


The Let Me Run coaches and team members are: 

Neb Talley (coach)

Nick Sebesta (coach)

Javonte Butler

Girls 14

Jaquan Butler

Steven Priddy

Adolfo Paschal

Colin Afroozi

Jaleel Nelson

Bryce Jackson

Tyler Montgomery

Joshua Edmonds

Ryann Briggs

The Girls on the Run coaches and team members are:

Kelly Drayton (coach)

Edwina Cain (coach)

Stephanie Payne (coach)

Haley Rippey (coach)

Elinor Wilburn (coach)

Sarai Benitez  Anchante

Jessica Benitez Anchante

Chloe Dillinger

Breanna Ellison

Adela Gomez

Payton Hadley

Anny Infante

Kalliyan Meas

Mykaela Newsome

Tahjia Paybon

Shanteria Sellers

Serenity Shuff

Stefani Stover

Addison Watkins

Sydney Winkler

For more information about Let Me Run, go to

Kim Underwood