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Running for confidence: Portland school launches self-esteem program for girls

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Running for confidence: Portland school launches self-esteem program for girls

PORTLAND — Thirty-seven students at Longfellow Elementary School are running against stereotypes through a program focused on building self-esteem in adolescent girls.

The girls, all in grades three through five, are participating in a10-week training program with Girls on the Run, an international program that works with communities and schools to inspire pre-teen girls to lead confident, happy and healthy lives by combining running with a confidence-boosting curriculum.

While running is at the heart of the program, it is not about who can run the fastest.

"It's not about the running," Principal Dawn Carrigan said. "It's about participating and doing your best."

At the end of the 10 weeks, each of the Longfellow students will participate in Cape Elizabeth's 5k Turkey Trot on Nov. 18. But their coaches are not focused on how fast the girls go; they are hoping the students feel empowered by the process.

“The curriculum is far less about running,” Jen Rhode, Maine Girls on the Run council director, said. “At the end of the program the girls can walk, run, hop, skip or twirl through their 5k. If they don't become runners in life, that's OK, but it's giving them an experience to teach them they have the power to take control of themselves.”

The Cumberland-based program began at Longfellow this fall after a successful pilot run in the spring, Carrigan said. When the school decided it wanted to do the program again this fall, expecting to field only one team, 37 girls signed up and they ended up with three teams.

The girls at Longfellow are the state's only teams, but Girls on the Run Maine is hoping to expand over the next several years.

Rhode said that the international chapter only allowed the state to start with three teams while they build the infrastructure for more teams, but there is a lot of interest coming from communities across Maine.

“I get phone calls and e-mails daily asking when can we start a site at our school and what's the process? Interest is coming from all 16 counties,” she said.

Their five-year strategic plan has them starting the growth process in Cumberland County and later moving into north. But if an enthusiastic community comes forward, they will work to bring a branch of the program to that community.

“Even though we have a strategic plan, if we find there is a community that is completely fired up and has strong support either at a school or a site and they can make a strong case to us, we're going to evaluate everything at this point,” Rhode said. “We're going to make sure that those communities that are eager and super motivated are accommodated.”

She said that while there are other running programs in several Maine communities, Girls on the Run is different because the program emphasizes participation and self-development instead of training runners.

"Running is a vehicle of building self-esteem," she said. "If you make girls physically strong by completing a 5k, they become emotionally strong and better prepared to handle the challenges of middle school."

A fundraising event for Girls on the Run Maine, the Hot Choco Trot 5k, will be held Oct. 21 at 9 a.m. in Deering Oaks Park.

According to Rhode, the 5k run is less about racing and more about having fun. Prizes will be awarded for best costume, best finish line dance and the finish festival features live music and family friendly activities. 

Registration for the run is $20 in advance and $25 the day of. All of the money raised by the event will go toward scholarships and program costs.

Rhode also said the program is looking for volunteer coaches to work with the spring Girls on the Run session and anyone interested should visit www.girlsontherunmaine.org and click on the “Get Involved” tab.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.