joggingOver the summer, we’re continuing to highlight positive opportunities available to teens. I had the privilege of interviewing a representative from Girls on the Run, an amazing program that promotes physical activity and so much more for teen girls. Though this interview is with a representative from outside of Washington State, she gives an excellent overview of the program. Information about the Puget Sound chapter can be found here and at the very end of the post.

  1. What is Girls on the Run? What is it’s mission?

Girls on the Run is a physical activity-based positive youth development program (PA-PYD) designed to develop and enhance girls’ social, psychological and physical competencies to successfully navigate life experience. The mission of Girls on the Run St. Louis is to empower girls for a lifetime of healthy living. Our program for girls in the 3rd through 8th grades inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.

The 20-lesson Girls on the Run curriculum combines training for a 5k (3.1 miles) running event with lessons that inspire girls to become independent thinkers, enhance their problem solving skills and make healthy decisions. All of this is accomplished through an active collaboration with girls and their parents, schools, volunteers, staff, and the community.

  1. In our society, girls are bombarded with the idea that they need to change their body or the way they look (just look at the cover of any major magazine). In what ways does Girls on the Run challenge this message?

Girls on the Run is much more than the program. It is a philosophy. It not only impacts the girls who participate in the program, but also the volunteer coaches who deliver it and the many community members who support our program and mission. This helps to provide an environment for all girls and women that nurtures, develops, and celebrates their strengths.

Over the course of the program girls will:

  • Develop and improve competence
  • Feel confidence in who they are
  • Develop strength of character
  • Respond to others and oneself with care and compassion
  • Create positive connections with peers
  • Make a meaningful contribution to community

Such life skills prevent unhealthy and risky behaviors, such as physical inactivity and negative body image, and promote physical, mental, social and spiritual health.

In St. Louis, Girls on the Run St. Louis in partnership with researchers at Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the Prevention Research Center developed a pre- and post-evaluation assessment, which was administered by coaches at select, geographically and socioeconomically diverse sample of sites. Our spring 2013 season evaluation measured the effectiveness of our curriculum and our program’s impact:
After a season of Girls on the Run, girls reported:

  • Increases in self-confidence, positive attitude and being satisfied with themselves.
  • Dramatic increases in feeling proud of themselves and keeping an open mind.
  • Feeling as though they can make a difference in their community.
  • Being physically active. Increase in percentage of girls who participate in at least 20 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity on 5 or more days of the week not including GOTR practices.
  • Increases in how they thought of themselves:
    • As a good teammate
    • As a good listener, and
    • Someone who handles disagreements with an open mind
  1. What are some benefits of being active outside of being physically fit?

Recent evaluation results confirm that Girls on the Run – St. Louis (GOTR-STL) achieves our program objectives.  In 2013-2014, 96.5% of girls enrolled in the program displayed measurable improvement in understanding about the value of teamwork, respect, sportsmanship and the importance of contributing to a community at large.  In addition the evaluation showed an increase in the percentage of girls who take a positive attitude towards themselves and their body image. In St. Louis specifically, the need for a physical activity-based positive youth development program that strives to prevent unhealthy and risky behaviors is apparent, particularly for children from low-income families.  According to Kids Count Missouri, 49.4% of students in St. Louis County were enrolled in the free & reduced lunch program in 2013.  St. Louis County ranks 81st of the 114 counties in the State of Missouri in high school dropout rate and approximately 32.2 teenage girls (ages 15 – 19) out of 1,000 gave birth in 2012 (Kids Count in Missouri 2013 Data Book).

Girls on the Run – International, our host program, has identified having a significant positive effect on the following areas as part of the long-term goals
Physical activity:  frequency, intensity, and duration

Psychological well-being:  body image, self-esteem, intrinsic motivation

Social assets:  positive adult and peer relationships, resistance to peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors; and Health-promoting behaviors & outcomes

  1. What message does Girls on the Run have for parents?

The Girls on the Run curricula addresses the need for a program that empowers girls of all socio-economic backgrounds to develop social, physical and psychological competencies to prevent unhealthy and risky behaviors, and to promote positive health outcomes. Though there is no formal family program with Girls on the Run, many of the lessons include a discussion guide for parents/caregivers.  As a result, the discussions of healthy living, healthy eating, and healthy behaviors come into the girls’ home.  The majority of “running buddies” are adult family members – parents, older siblings, aunts and uncles – or other caregivers.  We are in the process of measuring the impact on family members, and have initially found that over half of the interviewed parents and guardians of participants reported an increase in physical activity because of their daughter’s participation in GOTR-STL. We believe that, as the girls increase their healthy habits and behaviors, the families and greater community will too.

For parents in Western Washington, check out Girls on the Run Puget Sound here

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