Girls run for health, community and fun

Published 9:24 pm Thursday, December 14, 2017

More than a dozen female students were gathered in a classroom with fifth grade teacher Amanda Giarratano, or “coach Mandy” as the girls called her, on Nov. 28 at Creekside Elementary School.

The group sat together on the classroom floor to talk about how they could support their community. They discussed what it means to compromise and treat others with respect. Then they detailed the rules of the activity they were going to do outside.

The members of Girls on the Run Hampton Roads were ready to live up to their title.

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“I like doing the running activities,” said fifth-grader Karissa Pate, 8. “It’s still playing a game, but with running.”

Creekside Elementary School fifth-graders Jaelynn Gent and Juliana Ashcraft make a heart after the Girls on the Run practice held at the school on Nov. 28.

Girls on the Run is a national non-profit organization that encourages girls ages 8 to 13 to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games.

Participants have met twice weekly this semester for a 10-week curriculum. Girls on the Run Hampton Roads will culminate with community service projects and a celebratory 5K run this Sunday at Virginia Wesleyan University.

According to Girls on the Run Hampton Roads Executive Director Ellen Carver, about 960 girls across Hampton Roads were enrolled in the fall semester. Each of these girls will be paired with an adult for the 5K, making for an estimated 2,000 runners at the university this Sunday.

About 150 of those girls will come from Suffolk schools like Creekside Elementary, also including Booker T. Washington, Driver, Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr., Northern Shores and Pioneer elementary schools, according to Program Director Erin Highton.

For the ninth lesson at Creekside, the girls were tasked with a game of full-body rock-paper-scissors, in which four small groups had to work together without talking to each other to strike a similar pose simultaneously.

It took a few tries, but the girls succeeded.

Creekside Elementary School fifth-graders Mikaylah James and Breyanna Anderson hug it out after the Girls on the Run practice held at the school on Nov. 28.

“It felt amazing when we were all on the same page,” said fifth-grader Breyanna Anderson, 10.

The girls then ran a mile around the playground in laughing, talkative bunches that went back and forth on ideas for a community service project.

“We should try to make goodie bags for most of the teachers,” Karissa suggested.

Highton said the laps help the girls relate to each other with less pressure and scrutiny.

“It gives the opportunity for the girls to connect with each other without having the coaches hover over them,” she said. “It gives them the freedom to share ideas.”

This was the first year Giarratano volunteered to be a coach for Girls on the Run Hampton Roads, and she’s been surprised by how much positivity she’s seen in her classroom during the day as a result of these after-school activities.

“They’re applying things that they’ve learned through the program in their relationships at school and how they respond to others,” she said.

According to fourth-grader Christina Petruzalek, 9, the time the girls have spent after school this semester has become much more than just exercise.

“We don’t just run,” Christina said. “We have activities that make the running more than just running.”