Club focuses on overall wellbeing of girls
Two local schools have started a program that empowers young girls emotionally, mentally, socially and physically.
Girls on the Run is a self-empowerment club that both Heritage Elementary School and North Marion Middle School have introduced to their students in the past year. Girls divide up into teams that cover an inspirational discussion-led curriculum and also train for a 5K, which is completed at the end of the 10-week session on the Oregon State University Reser Stadium track.
"The program is designed to allow every girl to recognize her inner strength," said Rita McClellan, counselor and club adviser at Heritage. "The Girls on the Run curriculum inspires girls to define their lives on their own terms. Throughout the season, the girls make new friends, build their confidence and celebrate all that makes them unique."
McClellan helped recruit 32 third- through fifth-grade girls for the club last spring, and Jody Farri at North Marion led eight girls in sixth through eighth grade this past fall.
"We start with helping the girls get a better understanding of who they are and what's important to them," McClellan explained. "Then, we look at the importance of teamwork and healthy relationships. And, finally, the girls explore how they can positively connect with and shape the world. Physical activity is woven into our program to inspire an appreciation of fitness and to build habits that lead to a lifetime of health."
Farri said her group met twice a week for 10 weeks after school for an hour and a half, which included an hour-long lesson (focused on either spirit, mind, body, social or brain) and 30 minutes of running.
"The bonding that takes place within the group over the 10 weeks was so important, and the lessons allowed the girls to view themselves as important and valuable," Farri said.
The culmination of the curriculum is the non-competitive 5K, showing the girls that what might seem impossible is in fact possible, McClellan said.
"Completing the 5K gives the girls a tangible understanding of the confidence that comes through accomplishment as well as a framework for setting and achieving life goals," she said.
McClellan said that, especially in the past year with headlines of harassment, this kind of club is important for girls who are in third grade and up.
"The girls who participate definitely find their voice and they develop important skills that will benefit them for a lifetime," she said. "It was exciting to watch the girls' confidence levels grow throughout the months."
And Farri pointed out the importance it held for the students in her group.
"For quite a few of our girls, they are in a low socio-economic group with not many opportunities that don't cost money," she said, adding that scholarships are available for this program, which does have a fee. "They all feel better about themselves as a result of their hard work toward better fitness, and they have forged new relationships and friendships with group members. Also, the connection between the girls and (the adult advisers) seemed to be very special for them."
The program isn't geared toward the athletic, McClellan pointed out.
"There were several girls who had never run before and who did not believe that they could run a 5K," she said. "You should have seen their faces when they crossed the finish line at Reser Stadium. They just beamed with pride at their accomplishment. I truly believe that it was one of those "moments" that changed the course of their future. Several of us were in tears!"