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Running program helps girls build self-esteem

Back Row L-R: Coach Leigh Ann Huller, Alexis Strausbaugh, Sydney Brzezinski, Cassie Wallington, Bobbie Gooch, Jillian Senger, Coach Amy Watson, Melissa Smith, Lindsey Mullen, Coach Kristina Schefke, Marlena Komatz and Coach Stephanie Huss. Second Row L-R: Abigail Knop, Alexis Yeomans, Kenna Wagner, Brenna Maurer, Emilia Bauer, Hope Watson, Grace Vogler, Megan Armbruster, and Tate Hamilton. Front Row L-R: Faith Knop, Alyssa Schefke, Emma DiMalanta, Kerstin Hufstedler, Paige Hodder and Sofia Hessler. Not pictured: Abygal Barnewold, Payton Forbes, Katy Holloway, Danielle Kemp, Madison McClear and Katelyn Whitlach. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
June 23, 2010 - They run to build self-respect. They run to practice healthy living. But mostly, they run for the pure enjoyment of it.

"It's really fun," said Alyssa Schefke, a third-grader at Oxford Elementary School. "You're learning about things and when you run, it's like a reward."

Schefke, along with 28 other girls from Oxford and Clear Lake elementaries, is part of the Girls on the Run program started by OES Principal Jeff Brown in mid-April.

Girls on the Run is a national program for girls ages 8-13 that combines training for a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) running event with valuable lessons about self-esteem, body image, female issues, teamwork, bullying and peer pressure.

The goal is to prevent girls from eventually engaging in at-risk activities such as substance/alcohol abuse, eating disorders, sexual activity, a sedentary lifestyle, depression, suicide attempts and confrontations with the juvenile justice system.

"I think the kid-impression of this has been incredibly positive," Brown said. "Most of the girls stuck with it. I think that's a really good sign when a program's going well – that kids are completing the whole thing."

For the past two months, the girls met twice a week for 1½-hour training sessions in which they spent the first half learning a lesson in character education and the second half doing laps around the track behind OES.

"They like it. They like it a lot," said Coach Amy Watson, a parent volunteer who helps oversee the program. "Some girls were having a hard time running at first, but they really enjoy themselves now. We do different games to make it more fun, instead of just running laps."

"I like running and learning about other things, like safety," said OES fourth-grader Hope Watson. "We get to make new friends, too."

"It teaches you how not to be lazy and to be active and get exercise," said Megan Armbruster, a third-grader at OES.

The goal was for each girl to be able to complete a 5k run that took place in Plymouth on Sunday, June 20.

"The 5k was awesome," Watson said. "I am so proud of all the girls. They all finished and did an amazing job. We had about 20 girls participate out of the 29 because of vacations and previous commitments. I am already looking forward to next year!"

Watson is hopeful the program will catch on and spread throughout the district.

"We're trying to get some of the other elementary schools in Oxford to start up (programs) next year," Watson said. "We're trying to get the word out."

Brown noted this is the first time they've done a program that includes both Oxford and Clear Lake elementaries. "Our hope is to be able to do some more of those share-type opportunities for kids," he said.

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CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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