Viewmont girls learn positivity, teamwork, setting goals through Girls on the Run programJul 01, 2022 09:22AM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
It’s a race where the finish line is just the beginning.
The Girls on the Run 5K run awards everyone a medal to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments from an eight-week program which educates and prepares girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.
Amongst the 600 girls and their running buddies who participated in Utah’s run, which was held in early June in Sugar House Park, were 16 Viewmont Elementary girls and their running buddies.
“The girls had so much fun,” said fifth-grade teacher Kate Howard, who coached the Viewmont team along with staff and faculty members Kristen Snow, Brittany Roller, Casey Majik, Susie Routledge and Aimee Land. “It’s great for them to see that Girls on the Run is not just Viewmont or Murray community, but it’s the whole state and the whole nation they’re a part of.”
This year marks the return of the 5K run that was on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic; the race is considered by many to be a highlight of the Girls on the Run program.
Girls on the Run is a nonprofit 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 training for a 5K race. Teams, coordinated by volunteers at schools, usually meet after school for a couple hours each week.
The program started in 1996 in North Carolina with 13 girls at one school and now reaches girls in all 50 states. Utah jumped on board in 2007 with 30 girls at two schools. Now in its 15th year in Utah, Girls on the Run helps girls in 10 counties build confidence and make intentional decisions while fostering care and compassion for themselves and others.
“The program teaches girls how to be active and treat their bodies well,” Howard said. “It can be such a positive experience. We talk about body image, how they feel and about treating their bodies with respect. We empower them to learn how they have unique powers and to feel confident in their own skin because so many of them don’t.”
This spring, Viewmont’s Girls on the Run program met for two hours once per week and introduced “star power,” identifying their special skill that they helps understand how they’re unique.
“We talk about how each of us is unique and have unique skills and your special skills might be different than my special skills. It doesn’t make you better than me or me better than you. It’s something that the girl may think they’re good at and what is special about them,” she said. “We discuss how to communicate properly and appropriately, collaboration and healthy relationships. Those are life skills, but many kids don’t learn them. We use examples such as you and your friend might not always agree on something, but it’s OK. Then, they learn how to communicate appropriately when you disagree and understand their point is not wrong, but just different than your own. We wanted to teach them how to lift each other up.”
Each week, every girl records a goal in her journal on how many laps around the school campus she wanted to complete.
“They make their own goals, and they can see their self-growth; they’re really the only person who holds themselves accountable,” she said.
Then the group heads outside for games and to complete perimeters around the school.
“They could run, jog, walk, some of them liked to cartwheel and it just showed them that we can all work together,” Howard said. “It’s really cute because the lessons obviously connect with moving their bodies, so I’d hear them saying, ‘good job,’ ‘you’ve got this’ or ‘I like how hard you’re trying.’ They really have a bond with each other and have grown to support one another and that’s awesome to see.”
What makes it even more fun, Howard said, is that they each have an adjective that matches the first letter of their name. So Howard’s nickname is Kind Kate, so when girls are running, they’ll cheer each other or say hi to each other at school with their Girls on the Run names.
Not only do the names carry over in the hallways and classrooms, but so does the positivity and teamwork.
“I have some of them in my classroom and every day, they’re more supportive and kinder to others in the classroom. They say hi to each other and they might not have known them before since we have girls in grades three through six. It’s building a community throughout the grades that was hard to have during COVID the last few years,” she said.
Some girls also have changed their view of the sport.
“I hear ‘I never knew that running could be fun and I can do it with friends’ and having a change of their mindset is great as they become more positive and active. We did a practice 5K two weeks ago and there were girls who said that there was no way they could do that. Every single girl completed their 5K, which is awesome,” she said. “It’s exciting to see them accomplish something they may not have thought they could. They proved to themselves they are capable of doing hard things.”
Afterward the girls signed their names to a giant banner, which was hung up in the school hallway.
“They were really excited to show their friends that,” she said, adding that the girls received hand-painted frames with the group’s picture and Viewmont-specific Girls on the Run stickers in addition to gear to celebrate the team’s accomplishments.
Viewmont’s Girls on the Run team also decided to perform a service project to make a positive impact in their community. The girls cleaned the teachers’ lounge as well as made uplifting cards for people in the hospital.
“They thought it would be good for people to hear positive things,” she said, saying they hoped to make at least 150 cards. “The girls are super excited about it. They came up with the ideas and felt really empowered to make their own choices. That’s one of the things we’ve worked on, how to be a group member, how to compromise, how to practice those skills and then, learn how to make it happen.”
With the change of mindset, many girls have plans to run additional 5Ks and tackle other challenging projects.
“One of the most amazing things about Girls on the Run is it teaches the girls to be positive toward themselves and others,” Howard said. “We help them to feel confident and excited and know going forward, they can accomplish so much.”