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The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.” On Saturday morning, middle school students in the National Junior Honor Society, along with parents and faculty, happily settled for an eight-mile journey during their “Steps to Success” walk-a-thon.

The event was created to raise money for the academic club, which has seen a recent surge in popularity. According to middle school Principal Karen Bukowski, membership ballooned last year when 68 students were inducted into the NJHS. The inductees outnumbered existing members by two dozen.

“With that increased membership comes increased costs, so (NJHS coordinator) Marie Carlisle was looking for a way to raise funds,” Bukowski said. “She came up with the idea of the walk-a-thon. I just want the kids to come out and have a good time, raise money for their club and get some fitness in.”

Assembling at 9 a.m. in the school cafeteria for a brief meeting and a light breakfast, the walking parade of Panther pride soon hit the streets of Forest Park, traversing an eight-mile path that passed along main streets like Madison and Desplaines. Approximately every two miles, the walkers would take brief breaks. At the six-mile mark, the group enjoyed lunch and finished off the walk-a-thon by 12:30 p.m.

“It was a perfect day,” Carlisle said. “Everybody stayed together and had fun. The funds that we raised will be used for the upcoming National Junior Honor Society Conference and for our own awards ceremony. I’m really excited about this group. We have a lot of outstanding students and great kids.”

Alantra Wilson, 12, earned the most pledges, raising $722 for the walk-a-thon. Her mom, Tasha Brown, also was very active in ensuring a successful event.

“It feels good to do something for your school,” Wilson said. “It’s nice that we get some different privileges (as NJHS members), but we are all students who work hard.”

Carlisle projected the National Junior Honor Society at the middle school may grow to 100 members this year. In order to qualify, a student must hold a 3.25 grade-point-average, maintain 90 disciplinary points and provide 10 to 15 hours of community service.

“We had a lot of fun and we earned some money for National Junior Honor Society,” said April Kutak, a seventh-grade student and basketball player at the school. “I like this club because we help other people and organizations. Last year, we helped baby-sit some little kids, which was fun.”

Jack Marino, a fellow seventh-grader who plays several sports for the Panthers, echoed Kutak’s enthusiasm.

“I like National Junior Honor Society because we set up some stuff for our school and we go on academic field trips,” Marino said. “I felt ready for this walk, too.”

Aside from the fundraising benefits, several parents felt the walk-a-thon served as a great opportunity for the kids to simply hang around with each other and squeeze in some serious Saturday morning fitness.

“I think it’s good for Thomas,” said parent Wendy Evitt with a chuckle. “I’m really excited about the program because I think it’s a good thing for the kids to strive for academically. They also have a lot of fun activities for the kids.”

Last year the students attended a math, science, technology and engineering conference at Illinois State University. Next month they will participate in a math contest at Trinity High School.

Carlisle will let the kids vote on whether to do another walk-a-thon next year, and she’s optimistic there are plenty of academic adventures on the horizon. Given the success of Saturday’s event, the students of the Forest Park Middle School NJHS will probably take it one step at a time.