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Got girl drama? Take a lap!

Jul 20, 2018 02:22PM ● Published by Jet Burnham

The Energy Award and a cheer are awarded each week to the girl who has most improved or done something to stand out. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com

Third-grader Kennedi Gonzalez, like many girls her age, struggled to navigate friendships with other girls in her class. 

“Some of my friends weren’t treating me well,” she said. 

Kennedi joined the after-school program at Calvin S. Smith Elementary in Taylorsville, called Girls on the Run. 

There she found a group of new friends and the social-emotional training to empower her to express herself and have her needs met. 

Twice a week, from March to June, eight girls at CSSE met after school to run laps, learn lessons, work on group projects, eat healthy snacks, discuss problems and brainstorm solutions together. 

“We talk about all kinds of things like peer pressure and bullying,” said Jennifer Huntington, the school librarian, who is one of the coaches. “They’re really open about what they’re struggling with, and we try to give them tips and tools on how to deal with life.” 

The curriculum, developed by the national GOTR organization, empowers tween girls with lessons that develop self-esteem and conflict-resolution skills. 

“They give us examples of how to solve problems, and you can use them later when you need them,” said Zaidy Rojas, a sixth-grader. She had a situation where her feelings were hurt by a friend. Zaidy said her training in “I feel” statements allowed her to feel comfortable expressing her feelings to her friend. She felt better, and the friendship wasn’t harmed. 

“She didn’t get upset,” said Zaidy. 

The program teaches the young girls to recognize unhealthy patterns in their friendships. Destiny Florez, a fifth-grader, didn’t like the way one of her friends was treating her. She was able to be direct with her friend, avoiding unhelpful passive language, to resolve the issue. 

Fourth-grader Rachel Miller said because of her GOTR training, she was able to communicate effectively when a girl in her dance class was being mean to her. She resolved the issue confidently, without any unnecessary drama.

Rachel said the program has helped her rely less on what others think of her. She also feels more fit and strong. 

The program challenges the girls to prepare for a 5k. This year, 1,700 girls participated in the race held in Sugar House Park on June 2. Girls chose an adult friend or family member to run the course with them. 

“The program really helps with self-confidence,” said third-grade teacher Kristen Logan, another coach with CSSE’s program. “It really empowers them to see that they are capable of doing whatever they want. To run 3.1 miles is not a small distance.” 

Fourth-grader Sophie Scott said the program has encouraged her to work hard to set and achieve personal goals. 

“It’s not all about beating people; it’s just to work on being yourself,” she said. 

Fourth-graders Lola Parker and Rachel Miller joined the program to learn healthy habits and be more fit. But they discovered numerous other benefits. 

Through their time together, the girls have created a support network.

“We learn to encourage others, to keep running and to keep running forward,” said Destiny. She likes how they cheer each other on and give high 5s when someone achieves their goals. 

Huntington said the friendships the girls form are the biggest benefit of the program. The girls get to know each other well, something that probably wouldn’t normally happen with their age range of third to sixth grade. 

“It’s fun to be with all these girls,” said sixth-grader Reagan Vanderlinden. “We talk about how to make ourselves feel better if someone’s not being nice, and that’s been really great.” 

And she has learned things about herself. She has learned to identify what makes her happy—spending time with friends who are nice to her and doing things she enjoys. 

Last year, there were 130 schools in Utah hosting the GOTR program. 

Applications to host a program are available starting July 1 at girlsontherunutah.org. The next 12-week program begins next March.

 

Education

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