By ANNE WOOD
Most women can think back to their time in elementary school and appreciate how hard being a third, fourth or fifth grade girl can be. The attitudes and behaviors picked up during this time undoubtedly stays with those girls into their middle school and even high school years. A program promoting self-esteem, healthy exercise habits and friendships among women is not only needed during this time in a young girl’s life but absolutely vital to how she will carry herself into her future.
Thanks to Molly Barker, founder of Girls On The Run, this fall a Birmingham chapter of Girls On The Run was established. Founder Catherine Gregory, who volunteered with Girls On The Run in Charlotte, N.C., also started a chapter in Delaware prior to living in Mountain Brook. Gregory is passionate about this program and has affected many young girls through it in three different states.
Since one of the main focuses of the program is instilling confidence, the girls meet in small groups throughout the year for lessons and discussions on building self-respect. These lessons focus on building character by combating the image set forth by the media. It teaches them how to appropriately handle bullying, gossip, making new friends, and ultimately, how to simply feel good about yourself. If a girl feels comfortable in her own skin, she can confidently take on just about anything.
Accompanying these lessons, of course, is running. The girls play running games and learn drills over a course of 10 weeks and finish their journey by participating in a 5K race. Perhaps to some, these physical activities may seem unnecessary to building confidence, that the support and discussion alone would suffice, but Gregory disagrees.
“[The race] is their huge accomplishment,” she said, “something many of them never thought they could do with their community, friends, family and teammates cheering for them. It is our hope that the girls can draw from this experience as they get older and go for even bigger goals!”
The purpose of the running is more than just the benefits to the girls’ physical health. It teaches them how to set and reach goals. It shows them how to be proud of your accomplishments without boasting, and, perhaps most importantly, it helps them avoid the dreaded “Girl Box.”
“Barker, the founder of GOTR, coined the term ‘The Girl Box’,” Gregory said, “which is where girls around fifth grade stop being true to themselves and instead start paying attention to all the messages and opinions coming from the media and those around them. They go into the ‘girl box’ where they hear to messages like: you are not pretty enough, you are not thin enough, you are not smart enough, your clothes are not cool enough.
“Our goal is to keep them out of the ‘girl box’ and sitting up straight, laughing loudly, sticking up for what they believe in, raising their hand in class, and feeling like they are enough and perfect just as they are,” said Gregory.
The more girls who are exposed to this kind of thinking, the better. Too often young girls give in to the pressures to fit the molds of society.
Girls On The Run aims to prevent that from ever happening through producing strong, confident, and healthy young women. The hope is that upon completion of this program, the girls will enter into middle school with an armor on, so to speak. They will have been taught how to handle bullies, how to treat other people, and most importantly, how to treat and respect themselves.
The fall season will run from Sept. 12-Nov. 19. The girls meet in groups of 12 at Mountain Brook Junior High every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and are led by the head coach Kristie Stewart. Stewart has a team of assistant coaches who are all local to Mountain Brook as well: Fena Fuqua, Anna Katherine Bowman and Caroline Hoke.
Although the deadline to register for this fall has passed, Girls on the Run will be returning in the spring for a second season. More information on the spring season will be posted to the website closer to the start of the program.