Girls on the Run aims to make winners
Filed under Magee-Womens Hospitaland Girls on the Run
By Renatta Signorini
Pratiti Mehta's long, thick braid bounced on her back as she glided around the Newlonsburg Elementary School playground.
The fifth-grader's effortless movements on a cool spring day were balanced with a positive message meant to foster self-respect among her and about a dozen classmates. The message that day was anti-bullying, and the girls examined how to respond to a bully.
"We've been talking about how they can stand up for themselves," said Nancy Teper, fourth-grade teacher and head coach of Girls on the Run.
Interactive lessons and running are combined in Girls on the Run, a national youth development program at Newlonsburg and Sloan elementaries in the Franklin Regional School District. The program is meant to develop healthy social and physical lifestyles for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. It is locally administered by Magee-Womens Hospital.
"It builds their self-confidence," Teper said. "We've gotten nothing but positive feedback from parents."
Twice weekly, Girls on the Run meets at the respective schools and starts with warm-up exercise and an introduction to the day's lesson, which have included gossiping and body image. Each session culminates with the girls running laps to train for a 5K in May while answering lesson-relation questions in between each circle.
Fifth-grader Arianna Giannakopoulos said she likes training for the 3.1-mile race.
"Every lesson's like a different theme," she said.
Picking up on the bullying exercise was easy -- Arianna responded to a question about why people bully by saying it's "to impress their friends, or maybe they're jealous of that person."
Sloan Elementary's Kimberly Aretz said Girls on the Run puts young girls on a healthy path by teaching confidence and supportive relationships. It is the first year for Girls on the Run at Sloan, where students have responded well and say they enjoy the after-school interaction.
"I think there's a lot of talk in schools now about anti-bullying, and this program really supports that," said Aretz, speech and language pathologist at the school and program head coach.
Distances have gotten longer as the 20-week program progresses, and the girls from both schools were tested last week with a practice 5K race.
Magee-Womens Hospital Program Director Meredith Colaizzi said it's not just about the race; girls learn about themselves and complete a community service project.
"It's a program to empower girls to be healthy and confident," Colaizzi said. "One of the main aspects of the program is goal-setting."
Newlonsburg's program has been in place for a few years. Participants have learned how to deal with certain situations and have gotten comfortable with talking about touchy subjects with each other, assistant coach and fifth-grade teacher Amy Bowser said.
"They really seem to enjoy it," Bowser said. "They get really involved and excited about it."
10th Annual Girls on the Run 5K
• May 20
• Hartwood Acres, Allison Park
• Register at www.gotrmagee.org