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Elementary Running Clubs Promote Physical & Mental Health

Elementary Running Clubs Promote Physical & Mental Health

Elementary students across the district are discovering – in record numbers -- the many benefits of running-oriented clubs.

Girls on the Run groups at Lakota’s elementary buildings hold lotteries because of the high interest in joining, and Freedom Elementary’s Cross Country Club has grown from 75 students six years ago to 146 this year.

Why are the clubs so popular? 

“Everyone can do it. You can run with your friends. You don’t have to be fast. The goal is just to have fun and run for your personal best,” said Freedom teacher Wendy Meister who is the advisor for the club. “Ninety percent of those who join the club in third grade and are still doing it as a sixth grader. As they spend their years in the Cross Country Club, their confidence builds and they become leaders for the younger students.”

Fourth and fifth grade girls at Endeavor Elementary can’t say enough about the Girls on the Run (GOTR) group at their school.

“GOTR keeps you in shape but is fun at the same time,” said Audrey W. Nicole added that GOTR “helps me stay in shape and be better prepared for other sports. GOTR has made me faster on the volleyball court.”

Others like Maggie and Nora W. like being involved in something and meeting new friends. 

Mariah added, “I was slow at running at the beginning and I am excited now because I ran the laps without stopping. My mom said GOTR would help with spreading positivity, and I am definitely experiencing this.” As the girls and coaches run laps during practice, everyone is cheering each other on.

Endeavor’s GOTR meets after school twice a week from September through mid-November. Each practice has a theme, a social skills lesson, and a workout. At the end of the season, the team completes a 5K together, which provides a tangible sense of accomplishment, bolstering the girls’ self-confidence. 

Every meeting, the girls are encouraged to remember their star power (talents, skills and gifts). And when one of their friends gets down and has ‘cloud coverage,’ the girls are reminded that their job is to remind their friend of their star power and cheer them on. 

Endeavor teacher Jennifer Spaccarelli heads up the group and five other staff members help as well. “I have had experience with the program through my own daughters and I think the program adds valuable skills and insights for young girls,” said Spaccarelli. “I love the physicality/self-discipline of running combined with the social-emotional lessons.” 

Meister is passionate about the Freedom Cross Country Club as well. She started it six years ago when there just weren’t enough spots in GOTR, and boys wanted a running option as well. Meister and seven other staff members run with students twice a week to prepare for two fun runs sponsored by the junior high cross country teams, as well as the Optimist Club’s ‘Run for Youth.’

“Oftentimes students are reluctant at the beginning, not believing that they could run,” said Meister. “But so many of the students have gone on to continue running. In fact, the junior highs have told me they have bigger turnouts for cross country now.”

Both Spaccarelli and Meister love running with the students and listening to them as they go. The comments their hear from students make it all worthwhile. Spaccarelli recounts one fifth grader saying, “I see how part of this is in your head. Like, you say to yourself at first, that it's too hard but then you just keep at it and then you're doing it.”