Teachers aim to empower girls

BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer

For five Clarkston Community Schools elementary teachers, March 2 was not a typical Saturday away from the classroom.
Instead, Anne Marie Hart (North Sashabaw Elementary School, kindergarten), Molly Hothem (NSE, fourth grade), Brianna Spencer (Independence Elementary School, Level 4 ASD), Maddie Spencer (NSE, kindergarten) and Ashley Venegas (IE, second grade), went to a Girls on the Run of Southeastern Michigan coach summit that morning in Ann Arbor.
Girls on the Run is a program that aims to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. We envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams,” according to its official website, www.girlsontherun.org.
“This is my fourth year coaching at Independence so I hope that it continues to grow and more schools bring programs to their schools,” said Brianna Spencer. “We have 22 girls so far signed up and the past two years, we have had a waiting list. We try to spread the word in various ways and get the girls excited leading up to the start of the season.
“I have seen so many girls grow over the course of a season. The impact on girls that typically wouldn’t be a part of a program like this always seems to be the greatest. The program builds the self-esteem of so many girls as they see themselves grow as athletes and begin setting and crushing their own personal goals.”
A total of 17 girls are enrolled at North Sashabaw.
The Girls on the Run program may soon be implemented in other Clarkston schools for third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade girls.
Hothem, like her colleagues, is enamored with Girls on the Run and what it can offer.
“Girls on the Run is a program designed to inspire and motivate girls,” said Hothem. “It also encourages lifelong health and fitness. During this program, important social, emotional, and physical skills are developed. This program will definitely make a difference
“The curriculum is engaging and fun. It inspires girls to be happy, healthy and confident all while incorporating running. At the end of the season, the girls run a 5k and celebrate their accomplishments. They not only learn to understand themselves, but they also learn to value relationships and teamwork.”
Maddie Spencer sees a program like Girls on the Run helping build confidence in the young students.
“A lot of girls may start the program feeling nervous, discouraged and maybe a little hesitant to join in,” she said. “We slowly build our relationships together as a team and focus on the importance of hard work versus performance level. The program is not competition based, which I believe really helps everyone find a sense of belonging and purpose. We encourage girls to try their best and help them set goals that are attainable. We help them understand how to pace themselves while running, which helps their confidence grow. Throughout the season girls form bonds with friends that might not be in their class or even grade level.
“GOTR builds new friendships, helps them solve problems in a healthy way, and gives them a sense of accomplishment. Watching them cross the finish line (of the 5K) and feel that sense of accomplishment is the most amazing part. We hope that this program can help our girls become strong, happy and motivated.”
“We spend a lot of time as teachers shaping our students into being the best version of themselves,” added Hothem. “In a world that is changing so rapidly, it can be worrisome. Programs like this are what we need for all students.”
Also offered by Girls on the Run also offers STRIDE, a program that teaches third-, fourth- and fifth-grade boys important life skills such as being a good friend and teamwork. At the same time, it introduces them to the sport of running with the season culminating in a 5K run. The boys leave the season with a group of new friends and a great sense of accomplishment.
Heart and Sole is a program geared towards sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls that allows for more mature information around topics that include eating disorders, internet safety, relationships, cyber-bullying and tobacco and alcohol use.