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Murray Journal

Murray Schools Support Girls On The Run Program

Jul 06, 2016 08:44AM ● By Julie Slama

Local sponsors donated funds that paid for 49 girls at Parkside Elementary, a Title I school, to participate in the Girls on the Run program and more, including giving each girl a pair of running shoes. —Joelle Rasmussen

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

More than 49 girls at Parkside Elementary and 25 girls at Woodstock Elementary were among 110 teams of third- through sixth-grade girls in Utah who took part in a 12-week, 24-lesson program this spring, combining exercise with life skills. Grant Elementary, Twin Peaks Elementary and AISU also had teams.

Girls on the Run is a non-profit program that has involved more than one million girls across the United States and Canada to become independent thinkers, enhance their problem solving skills and make healthy decisions while combining to train for a 5K race. Groups, coordinated by volunteers through schools, usually meet after school twice each week.

At Woodstock, the girls started in February and were organized into a third-grade team and a fourth- through sixth-grade team. Many of the lessons centered on team building, strengthening self-esteem, bullying issues, positive vs. negative self talk, messages from the media and struggles they may encounter as they enter the preteen and teen years, said Christy Van Orman, who volunteers to coach third-graders along with Teisa Linscott. The other Woodstock team is coached by Jill Kinder, Marci Olson and Barb Wilking.

“It’s better that this is a preventative approach so they’ll know how best to make the decisions once they may face them and know how to make healthy choices,” she said. “It addresses how to deal with physical, mental and emotional challenges and how to talk about conflict. At the same time, we’re active while we have discussions since children learn better with movement. The program encourages healthy behavior.”

The curriculum focuses on understanding themselves, valuing relationships and teamwork and understanding how they connect with and shape the world.

The first nine lessons focused on self awareness, thinking positive, making positive choices, recognizing emotions and dealing with feelings in a healthy way, gratitude and taking a step back to think before responding in a difficult situation.

In the second set of lessons, the groups looked at healthy relationships, cooperation, peer pressure, bullying, gossiping and choosing good friends.

“We wanted girls to look at the difference between good friends and bad friends — friends who encourage you and those who don’t,” she said.

During the last sessions, Woodstock teams decided to extend to the world around them by helping refugees at Lincoln Elementary in Salt Lake City. It started with a food drive, then extended to a clothing drive.

“Many of these students there are refugees so we wanted to have a collection of items that they could prepare themselves such as opening a can of fruit or preparing Easy Mac in a microwave. We built on that and went through the neighborhood saying we’d collect clothing on May 10, then once we bundled it up, another coach took it to their school,” she said.

Woodstock teams would run laps around their school, gradually increasing the amounts they practiced until they held a practice 5K on April 28. Girls had an adult running buddy that could be a parent, aunt, neighbor, teacher or a volunteer from the community. At the Woodstock run, Principal Yvonne Pearson and a couple teachers joined the teams running through their neighborhood.

“Many girls start out in a sprint, so the running buddy can help them learn how to pace themselves. I love running and am able to deal with emotional stress through exercise so this is just another tool we are giving these girls to prepare them for facing difficult situations as they grow up,” Van Orman said.

Woodstock, Parkside and other Murray schools met at the final event, the May 21 5K race, which was more than just a race. It was a celebration complete with face painting, music and fun stations all inspired to motivate girls to have fun while realizing they made a tangible sense of achievement by completing the 5K, she said.

Joelle Rasmussen, who is one coach of Parkside’s five teams and also the school’s speech-language pathologist, said that her girls were charged for the race.

“The run was great, despite the rain,” she said. “ Their times were faster than usual, I think because they were cold and wet so they wanted to finish sooner.”

Rasmussen, who brought the program to Parkside last year, first learned about the program from her cousin in Maryland.

“I was inspired by a program that teaches girls empowerment while training for a 5K race,” she said.

However, she knew it would be difficult for students at Parkside, a Title I school, to pay for the program. So, she turned to their school sponsors, Workers Compensation Fund, who donated $1,000, and Steven Dailey Construction, who donated $1,500, which covered the funds for all 49 girls to participate in the program, including race fees, T-shirt, snacks, water bottle, programming material and running shoes.

She also was joined by nine teachers who volunteered to be coaches as well as a youth volunteer coach. Then, family members, teachers and community members joined the girls as running buddies.

They also extended other learning opportunities to the group, such as learning from the Women in STEM from Nelson Laboratories, who talked to the girls about professions in science and let them participate in hands-on experiments.

Rasmussen said she has seen changes in girls through the program, from sisters constantly putting one another down to learning how to compliment one another by the end of the season.

“It was amazing to watch how difficult this task was when we started and how easy it is for them now. They are learning to give each other space and respect,” she said, crediting the program that is designed to create healthy, confident girls.

Another girl, who moved with her family to the United States, said she hit her head when she was in first grade and ended up in a wheelchair. She began physical therapy and has learned to walk again.

“I saw the program of Girls on the Run and I joined. My therapist said it would help my right leg. It helped me a lot and teaches me to stay positive,” said the 10-year-old girl, who’s name is not being released.

Those are rewards Rasmussen sees with the program.

“I am thrilled to bring Girls on the Run to Parkside, to help them learn they can do hard things, to teach them they can become more than they can imagine,” she said.