Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Girls make strides toward self-confidence through running

About 30 from Highland View Elementary join in program that aims to build self esteem

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Participants in Girls on the Run, a confidence-building program with a focus on running, do a running exercise at Highland View Elementary School in Silver Spring Monday morning in preparation for a 5K ‘‘Fun Run” on Sunday.
On about the 10th lap, most of the girls running around the gymnasium at Highland View Elementary School Monday morning were beginning to feel their legs become heavy with fatigue. But there was work to be done.

For every two laps, the girls could fill in a letter on one of three posters that when completed described their pride in the program they were running for. One poster read: ‘‘It feels great to be a member of the fantastic Girls on the Run community!”

The girls, in grades 3 through 5 at the Silver Spring school, completed 482 laps to fill in the posters, cheering on one another and running alongside those who were finishing the exercise at a slower pace.

‘‘How did we do that? We were a big community, and we did it together,” said Silver Spring resident Sue Wilson, one of the girls’ coaches and mother of third-grader Abby, a participant in the program.

The girls, about 30 in all, are members of Girls on the Run, a nationwide program that uses running to build confidence in elementary and middle school-aged girls. This was one of the last times the girls would meet before their 5K ‘‘Fun Race” on Sunday in Germantown, where the goal is ‘‘doing your best that day, whatever that is,” Wilson told the group on Monday.

‘‘After a while, you start to feel the burn. ... Then it started to get boring,” 10-year-old Austen Whibley said of the 5K the girls ran for practice earlier this month. ‘‘But I saw all these people cheering for us, and finished it.”

The girls have been training for the 3.1-mile race since March, opening each session with a discussion on topics such as self esteem, gossiping, bullies, peer pressure and dealing with anger.

‘‘We talk about stuff girls go through in their everyday lives,” Whibley said after practice Monday.

On Monday morning, they talked about what makes a good community – following the rules, communicating and working together – and followed the discussion with activities that built on those themes. Standing in two circles, the girls relied on one another to keep from falling as they held hands and took turns leaning in and out.

‘‘It’s not just about running, but the big things too that we’re all thinking about,” said Annie Ryan, 11, of Silver Spring, after practice.

The nonprofit program came to Montgomery County three seasons ago through the help of Bethesda mom Eve Mills, now the director of Girls on the Run Montgomery County, who wanted her daughter to get involved, Mills said. Volunteer coaches since have been given binders full of information on discussion topics and team exercises to go with each lesson.

Wilson launched the program at Highland View this year with the help of Mae Jones, another mother at the school, and volunteer coach Cortney Riese of Silver Spring. As the number of girls interested in the program increased, so did the number of coaches. The program requires two coaches for every 15 girls, and not every volunteer was able to attend twice-weekly practices, Jones said.

‘‘I was interested in the whole girl power thing, and wanted to support that,” said Silver Spring resident and coach Suzanne Mintz, who had two sons attend Highland View.

Wilson and Jones said they have seen a change in each girl in the program, especially in their own daughters. Jones said her youngest, a third-grader, was especially impressed by the session on conflict resolution and had used what she learned on the family dog.

‘‘They process the things that they learn through talking, and sharing things with each other,” Jones said.

Ten-year-old Teslin Penoyer of Silver Spring said the program helped the girls ‘‘be confident in all situations and work together as a team.”

‘‘We’re all in it together,” agreed Jazz Basilio, 8, a third-grader from Silver Spring.