Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Exercise doesn't have to be boring, especially with a friend by your side.

This is a lesson students at Mary R. Garcia Elementary School learned this week as they started their Mile Club.

The club, which meets twice a week for 30 minutes, brings together students from all grade levels and gives them the opportunity to walk or run around the track, hang out with friends and stay in shape.

Garcia Elementary coach Sandra Silva said she hopes her students will learn from this experience that exercise can be fun, especially when done in a group. A total of 98 students signed up for the Mile Club this year, a record for the school.

Although the students just started on Wednesday, Silva said the group is showing some real competitiveness. On the first day, the group had a combined total of 294 laps around the track, which equals about 73 total miles for the afternoon.

Silva said it was an impressive start and really showed the students what the school could accomplished if they work together.

Fourth-grade student Tiffany Perez kept her eye on the track Thursday afternoon, keeping an even pace as she kicked up the dirt. Her sister, Taylor Perez, was the big mileage winner last year with 61 miles for the year. Tiffany said she's not really interested though in breaking her sister's record, she just loves to run.

"I'm just doing it for fun," Tiffany said. "I don't really care about the record; I just like running."

As each student completes one lap, Silva hands them a small straw. At the end of the afternoon, the students have their straws counted. Four straws equal one mile.

Most students come in with three or four straws at the end of the afternoon, although there are exceptions.

One student racked up nine straws Wednesday.

Students in the Mile Club are never pushed to do more than they are capable of or feel comfortable with, Silva said. Most students spend the afternoon never breaking into a run. One girl, with large pink sunglasses, ate Cheetos as she walked around the track, talking to her friends.

Water is available to students at all times, and they are encouraged to drink often to stay well hydrated.

Parent volunteers are also on hand to monitor the children and make sure they are drinking often.

Silva said the goal is just to get the students out there and moving. She said if they get used to the idea that walking is fun in the beginning, it will save them from health risks in the future, such as obesity and diabetes, a widespread problem in South Texas, Silva said.

Fourth-grade student Nicole Gonzalez said she just comes out to walk because she wants that certificate at the end of the year, and because exercising with friends is fun.

At the end of May, all students will receive a certificate for participating, and special tokens for every five miles accomplished.

Medals are also given out for the students who walk/run the most miles over the course of the year.