How can physical activity have a positive effect on attitude?

How can a group of girls come together, talk, share, play sports together, and get stronger as a result?

Olympic athlete Molly Barker took a long hard look at that pivotal moment of change in her development as a person, and in 1996 decided that a little activity, some talking, as well as setting and meeting a goal could be a big deal to a girl.

And, just like that, Girls on the Run was born. There are over 200 Girls on the Run councils in the USA, and Canadian coordinators like Anne McNamara are building school groups across the country here.

Molly Barker started the program because of her own personal experiences, both physically and emotionally. In collaboration with social workers, they developed an after-school curriculum, for elementary schools. Girls on the Run are grades 3 to 5; Girls on Track are in grades 6 to 8. The classes hold 8 - 20 girls and 2 coaches and the peer support model deals with self image, bullying, life skills, decision-making, positive self talk and standing up to peer pressure. It's a model anyone could benefit from, and each group of 20 sessions ends with a celebratory 5 km run.

"It's all encompassing; they're sorting out issues and they're developing physical competence as well," says Anne McNamara. She oversees the Northeast Ontario region, developing programs in schools from Barrie to Ottawa to Kingston, to Kawartha Lakes. She reaches out to every school in her area and works with volunteer trainers who run the program.

"We don't draw the track athlete or their coaches, really. When we talk about training, we talk about the whole curriculum, about moving forward, and that's what we celebrate," she says. She was able to start programs in six schools last year and is hoping to launch an additional 12-18 schools this year.

Registrations occur now with sponsorships available for girls who need that. Currently in Anne's region there are 14 schools registered, both public and catholic boards. With literally thousands of schools to approach, Anne is tackling this issue a school at a time, building contacts and marketing through email and phone.

"We provide everything for a school... all the curriculum materials, all the equipment other than the location and the people," she says. Some schools have three teams because they have enough volunteer 'coaches' come forward to oversee the program. And coaches are often parents or interested volunteers.

Anne's goal is to eventually engage 40 schools, potentially 800 girls... a big jump from the six schools and 90 students last year.

"What this does for a school community is pretty amazing to see. We reach out to everyone but I always have the discussion with the schools that are needier so we bring up the issue of sponsorship."

Deadline for applying for the Spring program in this region is December 19.

If you're a student, a parent, a teacher, or a school volunteer and want to know more, contact Anne McNamara at anne.mcnamara@girlsontherun.ca and check out the website at www.girlsontherun.ca.

Fabulous! Thanks, Anne.

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