Girls on the Run builds endurance, friendships, life skills


Renae Benner

Sole-searching…Warming up for practice, sixth graders Johannah Gehret (left) and Elli Watson run laps while pondering a question posed by the Girls on the Run coaches. At practice on April 13, the team reflected on their individual qualities and what they look for in a friend.

To train for a 5K race on May 21, develop lifelong skills and build relationships, girls at Indian Valley Middle School attend Girls on the Run practice once a week. 

Girls on the Run is a nationwide organization, of which Indian Valley is part of the Southeastern Suburban Pa. chapter. 

Girls on the Run coach Jennifer Toby said that the team of nine meets on Thursdays from 3-5 p.m. 

Many of the girls joined because they like to run and spend time with their teammates. 

“It’s really fun to enjoy running with friends, and it made me more confident,” sixth-grader Ellie Siep said. 

Others have gained knowledge and skills from the program.

“I learned how to work together with my peers and be more active,” sixth-grader Evelyn Taverna said. 

The 10-week program, which is open to sixth through eighth graders, began March 2.

Toby said that the program will culminate in a 5K race at Subaru Park, which is where the Philadelphia Union plays.

According to Toby, the race day is “so energetic.”

“You just have so many people who have worked for a whole season to reach this goal,” Toby said, “and they’re all there together to celebrate and accomplish a really awesome physical activity of completing a 5K race.”

However, the program builds more skills than just running. 

According to Toby, each practice begins with an introduction to the “main learning objective” of the day, followed by “activities that build on that learning.”

One lesson was about stress management. 

“They did an activity involving keeping balloons up in the air, but it’s meant to represent managing stress,” Toby said. “They were able to add in some stress management techniques to use.”

According to Toby, the girls also learn about teamwork, managing emotions and goal setting. 

Toby said that setting a goal, working toward it and accomplishing it helps the girls “come away with, hopefully, a really positive sense of self and well-being.”

According to sixth-grader Mercy Miller, she has learned that “you can set goals for yourself and not be afraid to try to achieve them.”

Following the lesson, the girls warm up and begin running, which looks different every time. 

According to Toby, the run for the day may involve maintaining a steady pace, interval training or “working with a partner and doing different exercises to do your laps.”

Finally, practice wraps up with stretching and reflection.

According to Girls on the Run site liaison Catherine Heller, Girls on the Run contributes to school district goals for “social-emotional learning.”

The program allows students to meet new students and staff. 

“It’s really fun and we get to know a lot of new people,” sixth-grader Elli Watson said. 

Heller said that another of the school’s goals is to get students involved.

“The research says when kids are involved, the better performance they’ll have, the more connected they feel to a community,” Heller said. 

Because Girls on the Run also runs in some of the elementary schools, Heller said that “it felt like a natural lead-in to middle school.” 

Additionally, Girls on the Run provides an active extracurricular option for sixth graders.

“It’s something athletic that our sixth graders can do, which is unique because sixth grade can’t participate in sports,” Heller said.