As participants in the Girls on the Run program at Scotts Branch Elementary School warmed up on their last day of the program, they ran in a triangle around three chairs. In each chair, one of their peers was seated. As they ran by their peers, they told each girl what made her special. The words “You’re pretty and really smart,” “You always have good things to say about people,” “Your smile makes me happy,” “You are my best friend and I love you,” echoed throughout the small gym.
Not so long ago, 10 weeks to be exact, these girls came to the Girls on the Run after-school program not knowing each other.
“We picked girls based on a lot of different characteristics. Some girls were quieter or those more likely to be overlooked. But we also chose some girls who are very outgoing or involved so they could model those behaviors, but also so they could learn to respect other people and let other people rise sometimes,” said Julia Hamilton, the school social worker at Scotts Branch.
According to the program’s website, Girls on the Run is a transformational, physical-activity-based youth development initiative for girls in Grades 3 to 8. It teaches life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games. The program culminates with the girls being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5k running event at the end of the 10 weeks. The goal of the program is to unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness.
The girls went from being strangers to giggling and interacting with one another in a healthy and supportive way.
“Twice a week, we help build girls’ self-esteem, and we run and have fun,” said Averyona Richardson, a Grade 5 student at Scotts Branch. “We try to be positive and try to avoid being mean and grumpy. It’s better to be nice. I have learned to express myself a little bit better, and running helps me when I’m stressed. After I run, I feel really relaxed, and I feel like I’ve achieved something. Girls on the Run helps girls with other girls because it helps us see how we are similar.”
The mission of Girls on the Run is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running.
“Girls on the Run is all about how if we get stressed out, we keep on going and never give up,” said Keren Nolcos, a Grade 4 student in the program. “We learn to express ourselves. We are all friends here, and we like to share our friendship with everybody. I learned I can never give up even if I want to; I have to keep trying until I get it right. Girls on the Run has made me feel really glad, and I feel like I can do anything. I feel impressed with myself and awesome about myself, and I feel grateful that I get to be with the other girls. We all have differences but it’s okay, and we have learned to look out for each other.”
At the end of each meeting, the girls from Scotts Branch huddle together and say a cheer. Then, they pack their things and skip off together smiling and with a new lesson fresh in their minds.
Over the course of 10 weeks, they have learned what it means to be truly beautiful, about making healthy decisions and about having strength of character and accepting everyone for who they are—all while getting out in the open air and going for a satisfying run.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes over the 10 weeks. There has been a literal increase in voices: they are speaking with more confidence, and they feel good about themselves. I hope that will translate into the classroom, into the schoolhouse and into their world,” Hamilton said. “I think that’s what Girls on the Run is all about.”