2 Summerlin schools offer Girls on the Run self-esteem program

It’s physical exercise, sure, but it’s so much more. An after-school running program, Girls on the Run, is intent on doing more than building muscles by empowering girls to feel more confident, know how to handle bullies and have a better sense of self.

There’s still time to sign up for the fall middle school program, set to begin the week of Sept. 11.

About 600 girls are involved across the valley this fall. In Summerlin, two schools (Becker and Rogich) are set to offer the program. Girls who attend other schools are welcome to participate, organizers said. In the spring, the program is expected to expand to include both elementary and middle school teams.

Girls on the Run recently was included as a top research-based program in a Social-Emotional Learning Guide developed by researchers at Harvard University and has been recognized by the National Afterschool Association (NAA) as one of the most influential after-school programs.

A recent independent study by Maureen R. Weiss, professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, suggests Girls on the Run brings lasting change in the lives of the third- to fifth-grade girls it targets.

Brigette Kelly-Kirvin, executive director for Girls on the Run Las Vegas, said she was pleased with the findings.

“The main thing that stood out for me,” she said, “was that 97 percent of the girls said they learned critical life skills and that they are actually using them.”

Weiss found that participants scored higher in managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and making intentional decisions than participants in organized sports or physical education.

Kate Carvalho, 13 and an eighth-grader at Rogich, has participated in Girls on the Run since third grade. That first time, she didn’t know what to expect.

“I (thought) it was going to be another one of those groups that tries to empower girls but it really wouldn’t work,” she said. “But when I got into it, I realized it really did help. I used to feel kind of alone and misunderstood but when I joined Girl on the Run, I realized most of my teammates had the same issues as me. … I started to feel more complete and I made more friends.”

Gabby Noorigian, 11, is a sixth-grader at Becker. When she was in third grade at Richard Bryan Elementary, she was already self-assured when she signed up for Girls on the Run. But she wasn’t an athlete.

“At first it was really challenging, until I got used to running,” Gabby said. “Then I found my own pace and a good running buddy to run with, and it was pretty easy from then on.”

The organizers encourage the girls with “energy awards” at each session. If someone is “caught” being kind, she gets an award. If she is observed helping somebody who was foundering, she gets an award.

“When I got it, I felt proud that I’d done something that inspired others,” Gabby said. “It probably helped their self-esteem as well.”

The organizers talked about situations the girls might encounter at school, such as snide remarks or bullies. For the latter, they girls were encouraged to try to understand why the other person was acting that way. They were instructed that if they thought it was unwarranted and aggressive, they should tell an adult.

Girls on the Run was established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina. It has expanded across the country to serve nearly 1.5 million girls. In Las Vegas, it began at Staton Elementary about four years ago and been growing quickly, said Kelly-Kirvin. How quickly? After the five-year mark, projections showed the Las Vegas component should have been serving 25 schools. This spring, it served 38.

“People get stoked and say, ‘I want that at my school,’” Kelly-Kirvin said. “It has a snowball effect.”

The program culminates with a service project and a celebratory 5K event. Across the world, Girls on the Run hosts more than 330 5Ks per year.

Kelly-Kirvin’s daughter Emily, a sophomore in college, helps at the 5Ks that mark the end of the program, running alongside the girls and helping with fundraisers such as bake sales.

“So, she’s gotten kind of an afterglow effect,” Kelly-Kirvin said of her daughter. “It’s even changed her to where she wants to have a life of service because she sees how girls need this.”

For more information about fall registration for Girls on the Run Las Vegas, visit girlsontherunlv.org.

Contact Jan Hogan at jhogan@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2949.

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