Girls on the Run


Words echo in a child’s mind long after they are said, words that can either build self esteem or create an obstacle to seeing true self worth.

The Girls on the Run after-school program provides a curriculum to help third-, fourth- and fifth-grade girls sort through messages about their self worth and become the authors of their own stories, all while learning to run. The effect on the participating students at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Savage is indisputable.

“The Girls on the Run program has been an extraordinary opportunity for our students,” said Principal Mike Smalley. “Not only do the girls receive high-quality training on physical fitness, but more importantly, they also learn about the value of a realistic and positive self-image.”

The 10-week program teaches proper running techniques and training for a 5K as a group, along with a 20-lesson curriculum that address life skills, all to help girls recognize their true potential and develop strength in their character.

“The curriculum is designed to teach life skills, and running is a vehicle used to deliver what we teach the girls,” said Shannon Jones, Girls on the Run program coordinator at St. John the Baptist. “Our core values are confidence, competence, caring, connection, contribution and character, and each lesson focuses on one or more of these skills.

“The girls discuss positive and negative emotions, and they learn about intentionally choosing words and actions that show respect and responsibility for themselves and others,” she continued. “Many of our lessons focus on care and compassion; for example, they learn strategies so they can put an end to gossip.”

Through the 10-week program, girls have formed a tight bond, which, for 8- to 10-year-olds, has been impactful.

“They are taking their positive new skills and bringing it directly into their classrooms at St. John’s,” Jones said.

Fourth-grader Molly Wagner said the program has helped her become a better athlete and learn how to choose good friends.

“I have a whole group of new friends, and now there are even more smiles in the hallways,” she said.

“The emphasis on positive peer relationships, teamwork and collaboration, and overcoming adversity leads the girls to become more confident and successful young women,” Smalley said.

Parent Kelsey Hull appreciates the program’s weekly lessons that each girl brings home.

“It is nice for our girls to learn that it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks about [them],” she said. “The learned confidence can be applied to everyday life.”

Fifth-grader Haylie Stambaugh said the program taught her helpful words to use if she sees anyone being bullied, or if she gets bullied.

Emily Hull, a fourth-grader, likes that she has new friends in different grades.

“And it is fun to run with new friends and then see them in the hallway,” she said.

“I think girls at this age are looking for ways to connect and handle all the social issues that begin to appear in these grades,” said first-year Girls on the Run coach and physical education specialist Jan Jirik. “Setting running goals and then conquering them is uplifting  for the girls, but the teamwork and the positive social and emotional goals achieved through the program are outstanding. I have seen their increased confidence and improved skills in gym class. Girls on the Run is a program that empowers girls physically and emotionally.”

The enthusiasm of the coaches, parents and participating students was contagious at the Girls on the Run 5K in June at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

An enthusiastic fifth-grader noted, “I never knew I could run as far as I can now. The support from the other girls and the coaches has been amazing. I will never forget this day.”

Parent Traci Kubisiak aptly stated, “The Girls on the Run program has not only taught our daughters about running, but also about giving their best and seeing the best in everyone around them. Our daughters understand and recognize their potential, and the result is healthy, happy and confident girls.”

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