The nationwide program Girls on the Run returned this spring to Evergreen Elementary School for a 12-week season. Eighteen girls from third through fifth grade met after school twice a week for lessons that blended physical activity and life skills to prepare for a 5K challenge at the end of the season.
“Half of it is running but the other half is how to be a responsible, good girl, and to be able to make the right choices,” said Beth Porter, a first-grade teacher at Evergreen and one of the three coaches. Now in her fourth year with Girls on the Run, Porter said she’s coached about 70 girls.
The group begins each practice with a 30-minute lesson including discussion and reflection, as well as a snack and warm-up exercises.
“We’ve got our norms that hang in the classroom about what Girls on the Run are — we’re caring, we pull each other up, we treat each day as a new beginning,” Porter said. “It’s a safe space. There’s no boys and everybody listens to one another.”
The group recently discussed empathy and various scenarios the girls might encounter with friends and family, covering simple strategies for tricky situations when it is important to show someone that you care.
“You see how they feel and you kind of feel those feelings with them, right?” said Coach Karlee Laubaugh, who teaches second grade at Evergreen.
For their workout, the girls set a goal of completing 20 laps around the sports field, then walked, jogged and ran in pairs, discussing a new difficult situation printed on a notecard during each lap. They checked in with Laubaugh, telling her what emotion the person in the scenario might be feeling and how they would respond to help bring out positive feelings and encourage what the group called the person’s “Star Power.”
These check-ins began with identifying whether the person’s emotions had “Cloud Cover,” meaning they were negative or dark, or “Star Power,” and moved on to identify feelings, including sadness, nervousness, happiness, jealousy, pride, shyness and physical pain. They discussed situations involving friends, family, teachers and strangers, incidents of bullying, helping, stifling jealousy and overcoming frustration or disappointment.
Fourth-grader Piper Schumann said she did not enjoy running much in the past but likes “the way it feels to get exercise” and joined the group because she wanted to improve her speed for softball. Now she plans to return to the group next year and said she can imagine herself running on a track team one day.
Each practice ends with an “Energy Award” honoring someone whose effort stood out that day, intended to reward and reinforce positive behavior. There were two recipients May 4: Mia Matthies, a third-grader who ran in head-to-toe pink and a headband with fluffy cat ears, and her running partner Hailey Fuentes. The pair also got a group cheer for being thoughtful and empathetic while talking through their scenario cards, as well as for working hard to complete their laps and keep moving the entire practice.
Porter’s main goal for the group is for everyone to complete the Girls on the Run West Sound 5K June 5 at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton, where around 500 girls from Pierce, Kitsap and Mason county chapters are expected to run. “It’s not a race, it’s just a completion,” she said.
“I would really like for them to be able to use these skills in the future; I mean, up until adulthood,” Porter said. “A lot of the things we teach, I tell them ‘there are a lot of adults who don’t know how to do this now and you’re already getting the groundwork.’ ”
Mia said Girls on the Run has helped her understand how important kindness is in all situations.
“You should be nice,” she said. “Even though someone is not being nice, you should be nice.”
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