Running has many health benefits, but for the Girls on the Run program at Oak Hill Elementary, the rewards are not limited to physical health.
Through the program, girls develop confidence, kindness and social skills. The school hit a new record with 60 girls participating this year, up from 43 in 2021. Oak Hill’s Girls on the Run head coach and parent leader Allison Hamilton attributed the growth to moving the program from before school to after.
Girls on the Run is a national program that is executed on a local scale, Hamilton explained.
“It’s not just about the running or the distance or the finishing,” Hamilton said. “It is lessons that help these girls at a very critical time, when society starts to tell them that they can’t, to believe that they can, and to get the tools they need to have difficult conversations.”
Instead of the girls saying “I hate you” or slamming a door, Hamilton wants them to find other ways to communicate. Through Girls on the Run, she has seen kids approach situations in healthier ways.
“When we’re not at a practice, I’ve heard them on the playground use these tools to be able to stick up for each other, to be able to speak up for themselves, and that’s how the confidence comes into play,” she said.
The girls had a practice 5K in November to prepare for the season-ending 5K for Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake in December at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. After their November run, Oak Hill students patted their friends on the back and gave high-fives.
The girls were proud to share some of the lessons that have stuck with them.
“They teach us a couple different lessons, but my favorite one is about star power,” said Oak Hill student Elsie Slack. “Star power is when you’re really confident and you feel like a star, like you can go super fast, and you feel as bright as a star. Confidence is when you really think you can do something.”
Third-graders Gemma Dornblaser and Mia Boyle enjoy being able to run with their friends while getting encouragement from teachers and parents.
“They encourage you to go at your own pace, and they don’t care how much you run,” Mia said. “They care if you encourage people, and they just help you.”
Fourth-grader Morgan Hamilton’s favorite part is encouraging others by telling them, “Keep running. You got this. You are so close.” The lessons about feelings have also helped her.
“There’s a lesson and it’s ‘I Feel…When You…Because…I Would Like For You To,’ and it’s to get out emotions that you normally don’t feel comfortable talking about,” Morgan said. “I’ve used that many times and it’s very helpful.”
Allison Hamilton said that any community leader, parent or teacher can start a Girls on the Run program at a site that does not have one. Learn more at www.gotrchesapeake.org.
“It's basically sending kids into middle school with the tools to make middle school, the way we remember middle school, to be a little nicer,” she said.
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