Girls on the Run searches for sitesPublished 9:12am Wednesday, October 28, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
The images are everywhere. On television, in movie theaters, magazines and online.
At first glance, an advertisement for perfume or cologne or clothes may not seem too threatening. That preview for a film starting some young, waifish actress not too impacting.
But to the eyes of a young girl perusing over those advertisements, watching the movies, the television shows about who wants to be the next top model – the images can carry an impact that could accompany them into adulthood.
In Berrien County, “Girls on the Run” an empowerment program for young girls in grades 3-8, is designed to dispel negative influences that can give girls a preconceived notion of what is considered beautiful and socially acceptable, affecting their self-esteem and self-image.
The program was held in schools all over the county last year, including at Niles’ Eastside Elementary School, and is looking for those sites interesting in facilitating the program to apply now.
“It was really awesome,” said Eastside’s Elly Boardman, who participated in the program last year and plans to do so again at Eastside this year.
“They (the girls) are just so thrilled to be a part of it,” she said. “They were very responsive. They’re very responsive to positive reinforcement.”
The program combines physical workouts with life lessons to encourage self-respect and healthy living. “Coaches,” which are often teachers, parents or other educational staff (but can sometimes be community volunteers as well) focus on the group of girls, teaching three core concepts and go through fun workouts with the girls, meeting twice a week.
The program outlines its concepts as “All About Me: Getting to Know Who I am and What I Stand For,” “‘Building My Team: Understanding the Importance of Cooperation” and “Community Begins with Me: Learning About Community and Designing Our own Community Project.”
“In our first year in Berrien County we had 10 sites and 229 girls participate,” said Peggy Schaffer, council director for Girls On The Run in Berrien County. “We would like to double that number this year.”
As the girls who participate work through the program they train for a celebratory end: a marathon 5k run.
“Every single one of our girls came through on the marathon,” Boardman said of those who participated last year.
Schaffer said the curriculum also addresses relevant issues such as drugs and alcohol, bullying, gossiping, making healthy food choices, the media and community service.
The program is open to public or private schools and those who wish to serve as sites need only to visit the Girls on the Run Web site at www.uwsm.org/girlsontherun and fill out a site application.
“Young girls today are bombarded with unhealthy messages from the media and their environment regarding body image, alcohol and drug use, and food choices,” Schaffer said. “In just one hour of prime time television a young girl is given instructions on: how to look, dress, act, what drinks to
consume, where to eat and what to buy.”
Schaffer also noted statistics acquired through the program’s research that “according to the
National Eating Disorders Association 41 percent of first through third grade girls want to be thinner and 81 percent of 10-year-olds expressed their greatest fear is of becoming fat.
“Without proper intervention and positive role models many girls grow up with an unrealistic and harmful depiction of what is ‘normal,’” Schaffer said. “Girls on the Run” empowers young girls to become strong, self-confident women. The program also encourages girls to value who they
truly are and to celebrate their unique individuality.”
Boardman said that after taking part in the program last year, she is already seeing an increase in girls who want to take part in the program again, as well as those who want to take part for the first time.
Those schools who apply to be a part of the program will work with Girls on the Run staff to prepare for the 10 week program that will begin in March with the 5K run scheduled for the end of May.
To learn more about the program, visit www.uwsm.org/girlsontherun.