By CORRIE PELC, Valley Community Newspapers writer
More than 250 girls in the third through eighth grades in Sacramento area schools participated in the spring 2012 session of Girls On the Run – a nonprofit program that strives to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.
“Girls On the Run is an afterschool prevention program for girls in the third through eighth grade and it addresses issues that pre-teen girls are just starting to think about and face, things like positive body image,” explained Kristen Condie, council director of Girls On the Run of Greater Sacramento.
Condie said this is the time in a girl’s life where they are beginning to feel self-conscious as they are beginning to be influenced by topics they hear through the media, at school, or even from their parents. “We really focus a lot on how everybody is great just the way they are,” she added.
“These are the grades that are merging into adolescence and they’re starting to encounter changes in their bodies, in their relationships with their friends, they’re encountering new social topics that they might not have thought about,” added Corrie Buckmaster, principal of Theodore Judah Elementary in East Sacramento, which has been hosting Girls On the Run programs for the last three years. “It gives them an arena to talk together, to work together on positive self-esteem, good social skills and those types of things so when they encounter these topics that are common in adolescence, they’ll have some background and support.”
According to Condie, Girls On the Run offers two programs – Girls On the Run for third through fifth grades, and Girls On Track for sixth through eighth grades. “The Girls On Track curriculum is a little more mature – they deal with things like boys, dating and internet safety,” she explained.
Both programs consist of two 12-weeks sessions during the year – fall and spring – with three levels of curriculum. The first section teaches the girls to look inward and talks about values and being healthy. The second section addresses teamwork, while the final section has the girls take on a community service project. And the entire session ends with the girls running a 5K.
Darcy Foran Williams decided to bring Girls On Track to Sierra Oaks K-8 school in the Arden area as she saw the need for such a program for her two middle school-aged daughters and their classmates. “It’s a difficult age for a lot of girls and I just saw a need that there would be some positive energy, and we had a very good experience with it,” she said.
So where does running fit into the picture? Condie said the Girls On the Run program uses running as a tool to help build self-esteem and work on the lessons the girls are taught through the curriculum.
“And as you know when you’re healthy and fit, and when you’re outside moving around and being active, you just automatically feel better about yourself,” she added. “We try to combine all of that.”
“I like that they encourage everyone to be part of it and it’s not based on skill – it’s just participation and really just motivating the girls to do their best,” said Eric Duarte, a sixth grade teacher at Pony Express Elementary who coached Girls On the Run at her school for the first time this year. “I felt like the program really encouraged girls no matter what their size was or their skill level was.”
Williams said the running portion of the program helps the girls channel their energy in a positive way.
“I saw girls that were kind of down, kind of tired, kind of negative throughout the day, but once we got there and got out running, their atmosphere would completely change,” she explained. “It totally turned their mood around because it was a good, fun peer group, it was a positive experience they looked forward to.”
Condie has seen the program have a positive influence on parents as well.
“We have so many amazing stories of parents who have decided to run their first 5K because their daughter was training for her first 5K,” she said. “It’s really neat to see them cross the finish line together and for the girls to feel like, ‘Wow. Because of me, my mom did this and my dad did this, too.’”
Condie said Girls On the Run of Greater Sacramento is beginning to prepare for the fall 2012 session, which normally runs from September to December. They hope to provide the program in up to 25 schools in the Sacramento area next year, an increase over the 19 that participated this year.
If a parent would like to place his or her daughter in a Girls On the Run program but their daughter’s school does not currently have one, they can register for a program at a different school, Condie said. She advises parents to visit www.gotrsac.org for the most up-to-date list of confirmed schools for the fall 2012 session.
For parents seeking to see a program started at their local school, Condie said once a parent or teacher receives a principal’s approval, the organization will work with them to train volunteer coaches and give them all the tools they need.