Maple Ridge brings back Kindy 500

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Maple Ridge Elementary School students Bronson Filbrun (center) and James Maranto (right) participate in the Kindy 500 event held on the practice field on Friday, May 13.

Tom Russo | For The Times-Post

PENDLETON — The Kindy 500 is back!

The annual race in which Maple Ridge Elementary kindergarten students design cardboard boxes as race cars then parade and race in front of their students and parents has returned.

This year’s event was held earlier this month and it was the biggest one the school has ever had.

The month of May is not just a racing tradition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it has been a tradition for over decade at the South Madison school.

That tradition was put on hold due to COVID-19. This month’s race was the first the school has conducted since 2019.

With the 2020 and 2021 races cancelled, the school invited first- and second-grade students, who weren’t able to have a race, to participate with the kindergartners.

Nearly 80 first- and second-graders signed up to race with 113 kindergarten students.

“We were a little nervous including first- and second-graders this year because we had close to 80 who were interested in racing, along with all of our Kindergarten students,” Kindergarten teacher Amanda Wilkins said. “We had to do a little more planning and accommodate for a larger crowd than usual. We were glad parents were able to attend this event, again, because of COVID, we haven’t really had parents back to the schools for many events.”

Wilkins said the fun event lived up to all its expectations.

Participating students, who began preparations in March, use a cardboard box and are asked to use their imagination to design their cars. Wilkins said they encourage them to go to Google or YouTube “Kindy 500” for ideas.

She said some of the boxes look like real race cars, others elect to decorate with favorite Disney characters, rockets, tanks, Jeeps, unicorns and other things that come to the children’s creative minds.

“You name it, they have probably tried to make it,” she said.

On race day, the students begin by parading in their cardboard cars through the K-2 hallway past all the classrooms, before going by the school’s third- through sixth- grade classes.

Following the parade they head outside to race in front of the parents.

Five racing lanes are set up for the races. No overall winner is picked, all the racing is for fun.

According to Wilkins, there was plenty of that.

“There are lots of smiles and laughs during this event,” she said.

Wilkins said the event is at least 11 years old and the school has conducted it every year except 2020 and 2021.

Jennifer Smith, a former Kindergarten teacher, came up with the idea when she taught at the school.

Initially, the races took place in the gymnasium, but, when the weather cooperates, like it did on this year’s race day, they move it to an outdoor event.

Wilkins said it was a little tougher task on the organization side with having such a large group. She said ample help was provided from kindergarten teachers, assistants and administrators, with the addition of first- and second-grade teachers this year, too.

“The kids who participated didn’t really know the event existed, since we weren’t able to do it the last two years, unless they had an older sibling that had previously participated,” Wilkins said. “The older students who watched as they paraded the halls were excited to see the event return, as well as staff and parents, too. We were glad Ms. (Valerie) Steger, our principal, gave us the OK to invite the first- and second-graders to join us since they missed out on the tradition in their Kindergarten year.”

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