CHESHIRE, Mass. -- Hoosac Valley High School students clad in red working out on the track after school is to be expected.
On Monday, a baker’s dozen of middle schoolers dressed in pink took their place.
It was the final training day for the sixth-graders’ Girls on the Run chapter. And they went out in style, taking laps around the track and the school itself while getting encouragement from members of the school’s girls lacrosse team, some of whom joined the youngsters as running buddies.
The sixth-graders were gearing up for a 5-kilometer race at Springfield College on June 2. And they were celebrating 10 weeks of running, learning and fellowship after school with teachers Amanda Wright and Shelby Gale and Hoosac Valley Dean of Students Elizabeth Phoenix.
Girls on the Run is a national program that began in North Carolina in 1996. Its mission: “We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”
The national organization claims more than 200 local councils -- including one based in Williamsburg -- and in 2015 had its millionth girl pass through the program.
Gale brought it to Hoosac Valley for the first time this winter.
“One of my friends on the other end of the state works in a school that has it, and she said it was really going well,” Gale said. “She was getting to engage with her students on a different level, so we wanted to start it here.”
Gale and her colleagues led the 13 girls through a 10-week program on Mondays and Wednesdays after school until about 4:15.
In addition to the physical activity -- in the beginning, that included runs through through the school’s hallways -- the Girls on the Run program offered lessons in social and emotional learning.
“We talked about girls making friends, resolving conflicts, romantic relationships, stress management, making good decisions, and then there’s usually an exercise and a running component for each lesson,” she said. “We build up to our 5K.”
Distance running is not something with which the 12-year-olds in the program had much experience.
“Most of them play soccer and dance and have done different activities, but I don’t know that they’ve run a 5K before,” Gale said.
The after-school program both promotes fitness and overall wellness.
“All of the challenges are connected, so the first one they set goals and they learn about goal-setting and how that applies to academics and and their social-emotional life and athletics,” Gale said. “Each lesson has a lot of discussions, so we get to hear from them in terms of their goals and challenges they’re facing, what’s going on with them in the day-to-day.”
Monday was a special day as the high schoolers joined the sixth-graders to celebrate their success this spring.
Throughout the campus, groups of girls lacrosse players were stationed with fun activities to break up the long training run. They provided drinking water, squirted the runners with “silly string,” handed out leis, held signs and did a lot of cheering for the Girls on the Run contingent.
Claudia Bresett, a senior on the girls lacrosse team, said Gale approached the team about getting involved.
“She said she wanted a group of girls who were good examples for the younger girls, so they could strive to be powerful women when they’re older,” Bresett said. “She thought the girls lacrosse team would set a good example with how well we’re doing in our season to show them how far girls can go.”
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