Girls on the Run aims to inspire positive choicesWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Good job, Taylor! Keep going!”
The encouraging shouts, mixed with plenty of high-fives, rang out recently at a park near Fort Meigs Elementary School in Perrysburg, where a group of girls in the local chapter of Girls on the Run (GOTR) meets twice a week after school.
Wearing matching pink shirts — and occasionally donning costume items like boas, capes and masquerade-style face masks — the group worked through several running and team-building games with the guidance of three volunteer coaches.
GOTR combines running with an interactive curriculum to inspire self-respect and healthy lifestyles in preteen girls. Topics discussed include bullying, peer pressure and healthy body image with a focus on positive physical, emotional, mental and social development, said Lindsay McKibben, council director of GOTR of Northwest Ohio.
“Women face social pressures at all ages; even elementary-age girls face it. It’s starting at that young of an age,” McKibben said. “The program really spoke to me in teaching girls some key core values at a young age that are really beneficial as they go through seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th grade and even later on as adults.”
The nonprofit organization is active in more than 200 cities in the United States and Canada. GOTR of Northwest Ohio started in 2012 and currently has 13 teams of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at 11 sites: Monclova Elementary and Whitehouse Primary Schools, Fort Meigs Elementary, Toth Elementary, Woodland Elementary and St. Rose Catholic School and Parish in Perrysburg, Stranahan Elementary and St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Parish in Sylvania, Gesu Catholic School and Parish in Toledo and McGregor Elementary and Greenwood Elementary in Washington Local Schools.
The first few weeks of the 10-week program center on building a positive self-image, including speaking positively of yourself and being respectful to yourself, McKibben said.
Next, lessons focus on building a positive environment, such as choosing good friends, how to handle social, peer and media pressure and how gossip and bullying can hurt people.
The final phase is centered around giving back, with each team planning and executing a community service project.
Girls are welcome to repeat the program and girls who came in as shy third-graders will often return the next session as confident leaders, said Heather Hayter, a GOTR coach at Fort Meigs Elementary. Hayter is a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at the school and her daughter is a GOTR participant.
“It’s really important for people to understand how sensitive girls of this age group are to the need to develop a healthy self-image,” Hayter said. “Girls on the Run gives them the tools to develop that image in a positive manner because it addresses the whole individual. They have the tools not just to know what it means to be healthy physically and not fall prey to what they see in the media, but also what it means to be healthy emotionally and socially. Those things are huge.”
The benefits extend beyond the girls who directly participate in the program, said coach Taylor Newlove, a Bowling Green State University student.
“What these girls are learning here doesn’t just affect these 10 girls; it affects these girls’ friends and their friends because they are sharing all these lessons and skills,” Newlove said.
GOTR teaches the Stop, Breathe, Listen and Respond (SBLR) method, said Sarah Gabel, program director for GOTR of Northwest Ohio.
“It teaches the girls to be thoughtful in their responses and not just say the first thing that’s on their mind,” Gabel said.
Courtney Besancon, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at Fort Meigs Elementary, said she uses the SBLR method frequently.
“I’ve learned when you talk about someone else you can’t take it back,” Besancon said.
Girls on the Run 5K
Every GOTR season ends with a 5K. The next one is set for June 1 at The Shops at Fallen Timbers and is open to the public. Girls on the Run participants will not be timed, but other runners will be.
“Each girl has a running buddy, which is someone who will run or walk the whole entire 5K with them so we know every girl is safe and has someone cheering for her and available,” Gabel said. “It’s something to experience. It’s a really neat and emotional day, at least for me. I cry every time.”
Ten-year-old Layla Malhas, a fifth-grader at Fort Meigs Elementary, said she didn’t really like running when she joined GOTR last year — but now she’s hoping to join the track team in junior high.
“Once I was with my friends and my coaches were very nice to me, it just felt normal and was fun,” Malhas said. “It’s just fun to do because I hang out with all my friends and it just encourages me to stay fit and taught me a lot about handling tough situations.”
Although several friends decided not to repeat the program, Malhas said she wanted to.
“Running just gives me time to think and to — I know this sounds weird, but — to reflect on life,” she said.
She ran her first 5K last fall and will run again on June 1.
“It was tough, but it was fun in the end to have achieved that,” Malhas said.
GOTR is funded by grants, donations and participant fees, which are set on a sliding scale based on household income. No one is turned away based on their inability to pay, McKibben said.
She said the group is looking to expand into more schools, including Toledo Public Schools.
“It’s a program we want every girl in Northwest Ohio to be able to participate in if they want to,” McKibben said. “We don’t want this to just be a program for girls who live in the suburbs. It’s a program that can benefit every young girl.”
Malhas said she’s happy that Girls on the Run is looking to expand into other schools — and possibly even branch out to a program for sixth through eighth-graders called Girls on Track.
“That’s good. Every elementary school should have it for girls to get involved,” Malhas said. “I’m going to be really upset about leaving because it’s such a nice experience to have and it taught me a lot.”
this is me
Toledo Free Press columnist Jeremy Baumhower is planning an fundraiser for GOTR of Northwest Ohio called this is me. The event, planned to occur Downtown in fall, will feature portraits of local female leaders without makeup. The idea was inspired by actresses such as Demi Lovato and “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke, who have posted public photos of themselves without makeup.
“The message we’re teaching our girls is to be proud of yourself, respect yourself and you’re beautiful just the way you are, so to showcase some of the successes and awesome impacts adult women are having on the community that have nothing to do with their looks, is great,” McKibben said. “We loved the idea and the message that he is trying to share.”
For more information, visit www.girlsontherunnwohio.org.
Tags: Demi Lovato, Emilia Clarke, Fort Meigs Elementary, Game of Thrones, Gesu Catholic School and Parish, Girls on the Run, Greenwood Elementary, Jeremy Baumhower, Lindsay McKibben, McGregor Elementary, Monclova Elementary and Whitehouse Primary Schools, Stranahan Elementary, this is me, Toth Elementary, Woodland Elementary and St. Rose Catholic School and Parish in Perrysburg