Empowering Girls to Take Care of Themselves and Each Other

by Together Counts Partner | August 25, 2016 at 8:07 am | comments


By Heather Pressley, PhD., Vice President of Programming, Girls on the Run International

Let’s face it. Sometimes adolescence is viewed in a negative light, but as youth workers we can view adolescence differently. And at Girls on the Run, we do. As a Together Counts™ partner, we choose to see adolescence as an opportunity—to help girls explore their budding interests, to use increased emotionality as a way to explore empathy and caring and to create interdependence with caring adults in the community. Girls create strong positive connections with peers, explore their strengths and consider who they are, who they want to be in the world and how they can make a positive impact.

Heart & Sole, our middle school program for girls in grades 6-8, creates a safe and structured space for girls to develop life skills that they will use in adolescence and beyond, such as setting boundaries and overcoming obstacles. The 10-week program focuses on the social emotional Girl Wheel (see photo), while at the same time, helping girls develop their physical competence to complete a 5K by the end of the season.

Each practice centers on a Big Idea (“We all face challenges”, for example) followed by a group activity which exemplifies the Big Idea. Girls engage in strength and conditioning and a running activity to prepare them for the 5K and also further explore the Big Idea. At the end of the practice, the girls reflect in their journal and connect what they’ve been learning to their own lives. As girls develop strengths in their individual Girl Wheels, the team bond strengthens. They recognize they are not alone and begin to problem solve about how they can help each other. They become each other’s best resource. One coach/parent remarked that Heart & Sole “gives them a chance to not feel isolated and alone and as if they are the only one being misunderstood. Can you imagine the impact it would have on adolescent girls if each and every one of them could know that they are more than their facade, that there are people who care about what is going on beneath the surface?”

When adolescent girls are provided the time, space and structure to participate in activities that allow them to explore who they are individually, who they are as part of a team and as part of a community, they rise to the challenge. As one 8th grade participant said, “I learned to trust myself more, know who I am, stop and think and help someone else out, even if I don’t know her.”

There are no mean girls. There are confidantes, collaborators and limitless potential.

Girls on the Run councils in all fifty states are looking for volunteers just like you to help with their Girls on the Run and Heart & Sole programs. To get involved, find your local council here.

About Heather Pressley

With more than 18 years in the field of education with experience as a teacher, administrator, professor, consultant and academic director, Heather Pressley, Ph.D., is the VP of Programming at Girls on the Run International. She has worked with teachers and students in a variety of settings, from the banks of a river to the lecture hall. Heather’s research and work primarily focuses on helping create environments which support, challenge and enrich the lives of young people no matter who they are or where they live. Heather earned her BA in English from SUNY Albany, her master’s in Teaching and Learning from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from UNC Charlotte. At Girls on the Run, Heather works to develop creative, relevant and impactful programming solutions for councils and support their implementation.

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