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Girls on the Run Keep on Running

Creativity, innovation and flexibility were all necessary ingredients to complete a virtual Girls on the Run (GOTR) season during a pandemic, and three CHCCS elementary schools undertook the challenge this fall -- Glenwood Elementary School (GES), Morris Grove Elementary School (MGES) and Ephesus Elementary School (EES). Each team of girls and coaches took different approaches, but they all reached points of triumph and increased confidence as their seasons wound down.

Triangle GOTR Special Projects Coordinator, Kathy Therber, said, “We were all so very thrilled to have schools participate in our life changing program during this particularly challenging fall season.”

EES GOTR Girls on the Run is a popular national nonprofit, and it’s especially popular in the Triangle; the regional chapter serves Orange, Durham, Wake, Chatham and Johnston counties. The mission is simple but powerful -- to provide opportunities for 8 to 13 year old girls to learn life skills through running and group connections.

Marne Meredith, EES school social worker, said, “This is Ephesus’ tenth year participating in Girls on the Run. We have had a fall team and a spring team each year. I coached it initially and have been the site coordinator since then.”

“This year it was fun to return to coaching,” Meredith said. “This was our first virtual team. The team was intentionally smaller with the virtual format, with seven girls. Girls on the Run always allows us the number of scholarships to coincide with our free and reduced lunch percentage. It is important to me that the team represents the racial and economic diversity of our school.”

Meredith described the range of activities they engaged in during the season: GOTR energizer videos, warm-up exercise and virtual laps in their houses. The girls especially liked the virtual dance parties and the Feelings Scavenger Hunt where they found different objects whose colors represented different feelings among other activities to reinforce the lesson of the day.

“We ended each practice with the cheer ‘Girls on the Run is so much fun!’” Meredith said. “And we even had family pet mascots who had Girls on the Run names where you pair the name with a positive adjective starting with the same letter. Good Gracie the dog and Silly Sweet Pea the hamster were a couple of our mascots who joined us for practice. After we signed off we each worked out in our own spaces using a movement bank or they could do laps within their homes.”

The practice “k your way” and end of season event was supported by families who helped the girls complete 45 minutes of any type of movement of their choice. “We had to get creative for the community impact project and the end of season celebration with porch drops of supplies and celebratory items,” Meredith said.

At GES, Wendy Johnston, school social worker, chose to lead a virtual fall season, in keeping with a longstanding tradition. This season, her co-coach was her daughter Leigha, who participated in GOTR as a Glenwood student for three years, then completed a GOTR internship during her senior year at Chapel Hill High School, coaching a team that year. Johnston said the experience of coaching with her daughter for the first time was “soooo lovely!”

“Our families chose to do an outdoor 5k, but there was no normal outdoor option,” Johnston said. “So Leigha and I made a 5k course next to Glenwood on the UNC trails.  We had the families spaced out 45 minutes apart so they could have this opportunity.  The first family arrived at 9:15 and the last arrived at 1:45.”

Johnston decided to host a GOTR team this fall because, in her words, “It will teach concrete healthy living and healthy thinking skills to cope with life's unusual circumstances.” Her goals were to give the girls an opportunity to make and keep friends at a time of social distancing and to provide structure, as well as help each girl find her inner strength. “In-person or virtually, Glenwood's goal is for our girls to learn flexibility, confidence and compassion,” Johnston said.

Morris Grove Elementary School hosted a virtual team that was organized by Angela Snider, school social worker, and coached by two volunteers, Elisabeth Stylski and Shannon Miller. Another group from MGES, all fifth grade girls, formed the Chapel Hill North team, coached by Stacey Lange and Jenni Soccorso. The CH North team met in person, insead of just virtually, and they worked closely with the GOTR Triangle office to establish a course that met the organization's requirements.

Lange noted how proud each of the CH North girls felt about their accomplishments with GOTR. "It was an amazing season," she said, "and I was thrilled I was able to coach and make an experience for these kids."

For their season-ending run-a-thon, the CH North girls raised $2,200 for a Christmas box project, and $750.00 of that sum was donated to the CHCCS Food for Students program.

Executive Director of GOTR Triangle, Meg Pomerantz, said, “So many girls are facing changes and new challenges during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; Girls on the Run offers them a space to have their social emotional well-being supported.  For girls who are missing friends and mentors, GOTR provides connection.  For girls who may be feeling fearful or insecure, GOTR provides a space where identifying and embracing emotions is practiced and normalized.  For girls who are missing out on interpersonal skill-building, GOTR teaches relationship and communication skills. For girls who would benefit from structure and decision making, GOTR encourages goal setting.”

EES GOTR student and mom