In Hopkinton’s Elmwood Elementary School, the Thursday before Patriot’s Day each year marks a special occasion. The school’s relationship with John Hancock Financial Services – sponsor of the Boston Marathon – allows for a group of approximately ten to fifteen Kenyan marathoners to visit the school so that the students can learn more about their guests’ lives and country through the Adopt-a-Marathoner program.

In 1993, John Hancock Financial Services consultant Fred Treseler approached then-Superintendent William Hosmer and Tim Kilduff, President of the Hopkinton Athletic Association, proposing an alliance with John Hancock, Inc. that would enable students to understand the perseverance and dedication necessary in training for a marathon while simultaneously learning about another culture. From this, the Adopt-a-Marathoner program began.

For several weeks prior to this special event, Elmwood integrates topics related to Kenya into its curriculum. Teachers emphasize to their students the differences between life in Hopkinton and life in Kenya. Students read biographies of each visitor so that they can feel a greater connection with the visiting runners and prepare specific questions to ask in small focus groups. Ultimately, the children are taught the importance of working hard to achieve their dreams, whether in Hopkinton, Kenya, or elsewhere.

The day before the event, John Hancock provides electricians and sound technicians, working with Boston Marathon volunteers and TRACS staff, who diligently prepare the school gymnasium for the event. Student-created posters and banners adorn the walls to welcome the many visitors. Street banners honoring previous Boston Marathons hang from the rafters in the gym.  

One entire wall of the gymnasium sports a mural, including key sights seen along the Marathon route, painted by local artist Buff Spencer. She later replicated the mural so that the Hopkinton Athletic Association could commission lithographs to be printed. Smaller copies are given as gifts each year to the runners as a token of their visit to Elmwood.  

Teachers stress to their students how it feels to be a visitor in a foreign country and work with the children to make their guests feel welcome. Third grade teacher Tom Keane has an extensive collection of Kenyan artifacts given to him by his aunt, a former missionary in Kenya, that he displays in his classroom prior to the assembly. Each year, the visiting Kenyans are excited to see these items from their homeland.

Once the students are gathered for the assembly, Treseler, whose staff plans and choreographs each Kenyan visit, individually introduces each runner. The Hopkinton High School track team escorts the runners along a path winding around the gym floor packed with seated students and accompanied by upbeat music, thunderous cheers and waving flags. Last to be introduced is the previous year’s Boston Marathon winner. As this final guest is introduced, confetti rains down. Since the advent of this program, Elmwood has always had one soon-to-be winner present at the event.

At the completion of the formal assembly, third grade students remain in the gym to participate in the second hour of the Adopt-a-Marathoner program. The children are divided into five focus groups, and each group is paired with two or three runners at a time. After approximately twelve minutes, the runners move on to meet with another set of students so that the children may speak with each guest and ask questions.

The Adopt-a-Marathoner program is, essentially, of great benefit to Elmwood students, who begin to learn from this experience the importance of celebrating other cultures and dedication to achieving goals.