Milford native Lauren French doesn’t stop with just making strides with students during the school day. French, a fourth grade teacher at Mispillion Elementary school, is also a coach for the Girls on the Run.
“I really believe in it,” said French. “Starting a program like this for girls this age is so important.” Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a national program that combines exercise and life lessons for girls grades 3-8. In 2014, French was asked to be a running buddy for a fellow teacher’s daughter who was involved with GOTR at Lulu Ross Elementary school. “It was such an awesome experience,” said French. “I knew we needed to bring the program to Mispillion.” The following year French and 5 other professionals started coaching two teams for GOTR.
Recruiting girls has never been an issue for GOTR. Every year Guidance counselor, Elizabeth Luff, shows a clip about GOTR and through word of mouth, most students find out about the program. “Girls in the 1st grade have waiting to join and some do it all 3 years,” said French. “We have a good reputation.” Parents sign up their children online and the fees are based on a sliding scale but financial situations don’t affect participation. “We never want the price to be an issues,” said French. GOTR has many corporate and individual donors. “They even have a partnership with Payless Shoes if the girls need sneakers,” said French.
Weekly practices start in March and run for 10 weeks. Each practice has a focus and a curriculum. “We really focus on fitness and being healthy,” said French. “We also cover issues such as self-esteem, getting along with others and making positive choices.” Other topics include self-respect, strength of character, positive connections with peers and adults and their community. Running is a huge part of GOTR as well. “The girls set a lap goal each practice and keep track of it throughout the season,” said French. Team spirit is important to the coaches so, each practice ends with the group chant “Girl’s on the Run is so much fun.” GOTR is also very inclusive. “There’s an accessibility guide so that girls with disabilities can be involved,” said French.
Giving back to the community is very important to GOTR. The girls pick a community service project that they choose as a team. Prior year’s projects included food drives for the food bank and ASPCA and painting kindness rocks to place around the school. “We also put the girls in charge of making It public and getting it on the announcements,” said French.
Parents are always welcome to be involved with the teams. Weekly emails with “car ride questions” coincide with their topics. “It’s really an extension of the program,” said French. Parents don’t usually come to the practices because of safety and trust issues. “GOTR emphasizes trust with the girls so, we don’t want spectators throwing off the flow,” said French. “We do encourage parents to run the practice 5k though.” Two weeks before the final 5k, they host a practice run. “The girls get to wear their GOTR shirts to school that day,” said French. “We write inspirational quotes in chalk, have snacks and streamers to make it fun.” All the southern DE teams (over 1k girls) meet at the end of the season to run a 5k together. Each girl needs a running buddy over 16 to run the final 5k with them so, parents can also be involved there. The season ends with a party where the girls receive completion certificates.
It’s easy to see how GOTR is making a difference. “A shy 3rd grader eventually becomes a 5th grade leader,” says French. All the strategies and life lessons are more than beneficial. “I’m able to see the girls use these tools first hand,” said French. “I just love to see them grow.”
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