When Madi Jankowski practiced with her Girls on the Run teammates last Thursday, the fourth grader at Edgewood Elementary School fell tantalizingly short of her goal of 15 laps around the school.
“I tried to get as much of the 5k as I could, which was 15 laps around the school, and I got 12,” Madi said Tuesday.
Goal setting like Madi’s has been the focus all fall for the 18 girls and three volunteer coaches that have comprised Edgewood’s first-ever Girls on the Run team.
Girls on the Run is a national program designed to promote self-confidence and healthy choices in pre-teen girls, with a curriculum that incorporates running.
Edgewood’s participants are third- through fifth-graders. Volunteer coaches are Edgewood teachers Jennifer Hannis, Ami Jankowski and Jodi Bellile. Hannis volunteered because she is a runner herself.
“I know what running has done for me as a person in terms of meeting goals you never knew you could,” Hannis said. “And the self-motivation it instills in you, I thought it was a good thing for young girls as well.”
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Hannis said when the group first got together in September, many of the girls couldn’t run for more than 5 minutes during a 90-minute practice. Now, most of the girls spend 30-45 minutes “moving forward” — walking or running during portions of the practice.
They’ve been building up to the season-culminating event: a 5k run/walk at Greenfield Park in West Allis on Sunday.
“My goal is to run at least most of the 5k,” fifth-grader Josyln Handle said. “I had to practice a lot and eat healthy and watch what I eat.”
But Girls on the Run is much more than just running and getting physically fit. Girls are taught about peer pressure, image issues, maintaining healthy lifestyles and much more.
Each practice began with a theme, whether it be the detriments of gossip or how women are portrayed in advertisements. The girls talked about the theme among each other and with their coaches, and running elements are mixed into the lessons.
“I learned you shouldn’t spread rumors because you’re putting down other people,” Joslyn said. “You should try to be the best friend that you can possible be.”
Madi said, “when there’s a problem or something, we should try to figure it out first and not just do something back. Try to figure it out or tell a teacher.”
Hannis and the other coaches asked the participants at the end of every practice, “What did you learn about yourself today?”
“They say, ‘I learned I could do something that I never thought I could do before. If I put my mind to something, I can accomplish it,’” Hannis said. “It’s amazing to see some of them, the little amount of running they could do. And now, they really understood how to set those small goals and meet them.”
Positive reinforcement is promoted through runner-nominated spirit awards during each practice, and the girls have to participate in a community service project as well. The Edgewood girls decided to pick up litter around their school so they wouldn’t have to see it while they practiced.
Hannis said the 5k, which begins at 11 a.m., is open to the public, not just the Girls on the Run participants.