It has only been one week of Girls on the Run- Heart and Sole and I already feel the power of the program! This program, designed to educate and empower young girls through an intentionally designed curriculum and running activities is nothing less than impressive. I wish I could have had this program when I was a young girl but am thankful and excited that I can now participate as a coach and school counselor.
As a school counselor, I am constantly looking for programs that can give my students the tools that they need to be prepared for the world at large. And I am especially always in search of programs that can support students self-worth and self-esteem, including their understanding of their strengths and values. In our education system, there are so many gaps in these areas leaving a lasting impact on generation after generation. Last year, my co-counselor brought the program to our middle school. I was asked to be a running buddy at the end of the season 5k. And this year I couldn’t stay away. I knew I needed to be a part of a program that enhances confidence and joy. Naturally I signed up as a coach.
Being a coach for Heart and Sole, the middle school version of Girls on the Run (GOTR), means that I am committed to 10 weeks, 20 practices, and a 5k at the end of the program. More than that I am committed to the development and growth of our team of young middle school girls. Each week our team of girls have the opportunity to participate in an engaging curriculum with various themes and objectives as well as activities that promote total health of the spirit, the body, the social, the brain and the heart. I love how it is not just focused on running but instead largely focuses on developing skills in young girls that will help with life. How to make good decisions. How to deal with emotions. How to know your strengths. How to set and reach a goal. In fact, GOTR curriculum emphasizes that students don’t even have to run. They can walk skip or jump throughout the running portions. The focus is on growth, for each girls to see how their own physical, social, and spiritual strengths grow.
Week 1 came quick. In order to participate in the GOTR program, coaches must be trained by their county’s GOTR organization. I attended the training in February, and just a few weeks later was our first practice. We were worried about timing in our county because prior to the start of practice our part of the state experienced a huge snow storm, putting students out of school for two weeks and then another week for mid-winter break. We anticipated that this may impact the turnout. But it did not. Our kids still got their forms in and the fee attached to the program. It is a reminder to us that youth (and their parents) are hungry for structured and positive activities to participate in. Snow and inconsistent schooling was not a barrier for our GOTR program. This year we have two teams of about 28 girls.
Week 1 GOTR highlight for me was the GGI or Get Girls Input portion of the Heart and Sole sessions. GGI is either a time for girls to give examples of a topic or a time where girls can share their feelings or thoughts regarding the specific activity or the day as a whole. I loved these moments in Week 1 because I observed young girls given and taking the opportunity to reflect, think, and share the process and what they had learned. “Reflection” is incredibly important in the learning process. John Dewey, a guru of learning development, often wrote about reflection as being more important to the learning process than the experience itself. There is a plethora of research in education to support this. Yet, I often see “reflection” or the process and learning experience left out of these types of curriculums or done as an after thought. Go GOTR for making reflection or GGI a major element of the curriculum. I also see this type of reflection in the lap goals and progress sheet each girl fills out.
Week 1 was also challenging. Like any group I would run as a school counselor, this group is going to take time to build. It takes time to create a safe environment and build trust and therefore cohesiveness among a team. When we asked girls to participate in the program, we intentionally targeted girls from different groups. My goal was to get a girl from each table of the middle school lunch room. The group is very diversified which can mean some of the girls don’t know anyone, a challenge for any middle school students. Further, the girls walked in with priori experiences and therefore judgments about the people there and the program itself. I even have two 6th grade girls who used to be best friends and no longer are friends in the group. Perhaps a program like this can break down some walls.
For week two, I look forward to more joy and laughter and fun.