“Let’s go, girls! You’re doing great!” Meghan Harvey cheered as a group of third- to fifth-grade girls exercised at Teddy Edersol Fields. Harvey, their coach, is guiding the girls not only as they exercise their bodies, but as they also build emotional and mental strength.
Harvey and the girls are part of Girls on the Run, a nationwide youth development program that combines an interactive, educational curriculum with running to inspire physically and emotionally healthy lifestyles in preteen girls.
The program has its Massachusetts headquarters at the Hill House on Mount Vernon Street and was brought here in September by volunteer coaches Harvey, Jen McNamara and Lorissa Mahoney after they attended a training session at the organization's national headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., last summer.
They are nearing the end of the spring season, which will culminate with a noncompetitive 5 kilometer race May 14 run on the Esplanade. The race is sponsored by New Balance, a national sponsor of Girls on the Run.
The girls' parents, most of whom are Beacon Hill residents, gave GOTF great feedback. And because of the overwhelming interest in the Suffolk County program, the spring season saw the addition of three new coaches as well as a program in Brighton.
The 12-week curriculum is divided into three parts: “self, team and community,” coach Mahoney said. Each practice begins with a discussion on a specific topic, such as gossip or body image, which “becomes a conversation between the girls and the coaches.”
“The gossip lesson is my favorite,” Harvey said. “We bring a tube of toothpaste and pass it around the group, asking each girl to squeeze a little toothpaste out. Then we ask them to put the toothpaste back in. You just can’t. It’s like gossip – you can’t take the words back.”
After the lesson, they move onto doing interactive exercises such as games and relay races and then they run a few laps around a field, or an indoor gym in the winter.
“At first, I was concerned about all the running,” Harvey said. “But that’s not what it’s about. We say, ‘moving is improving’ – they can be skipping, walking, or cartwheeling their laps. They just have to keep moving.”
The program strikes a balance between physical and emotional education among the preteen girls – all while having fun. At the end of each practice, the girls can give an “energy award” to someone at practice who showed positive energy or did something kind that day.
“The program is nothing about pushing them; it’s about finding themselves and being a part of something,” Harvey said.
Visit gotrboston.com for more information on Girls on the Run Boston. Sign up for May 14 run on GOTR Boston’s Facebook page.