Shawnee elementary students find encouragement along Girls on the Run course

The Clear Lake Elementary group made encouraging signs to plant along the Girls on the Run training course.

Some third through fifth grade girls from Clear Creek Elementary and Prairie Ridge Elementary Girls on the Run teams partnered to make encouraging sidewalk chalk art and yard signs a permanent fixture on a portion of the Clear Creek Trail, near USD 232’s Monticello Trails Middle School. The Clear Creek team writes encouraging messages on the trail each season as an act of community service, and has received approval of the City of Shawnee to make the art more permanent.

The Clear Creek and Prairie Ridge Elementaries Girls on the Run teams.

Girls on the Run is a nonprofit empowerment program for young girls with chapters nationwide and programs divided by grade. Tere Gathright and Kendall Herman, head coaches of Clear Creek and Prairie Ridge GORT teams, respectively, said the program is about more than just running: It offers young girls the opportunity to build self esteem and learn valuable life lessons.

“Half of our practice is a discussion based on a topic that is relevant to third through fifth grade girls and then the other half is training for our 5k,” Herman said. “I love that we are actually developing their character.”

Both Gathright and Herman are in their ninth season with Girls on the Run, and both coaches started out as parents of a participating girl. Herman said that as a parent, she appreciated the discussions and lessons that accompany each practice. GOTR meets twice a week for 10 weeks to prepare for a 5K at the end of the season.

The life lessons address potentially difficult situations the girls may encounter throughout life such as taking a step back and weighing their options when they’re frustrated. One lesson from this season addressed how to choose friends, Gathright said. Additionally, she said she knows the program has lasting impacts on young girls when they approach her after aging out of GOTR.

“Little girls that started in the program in third grade, who are now in middle school, will still come up and hug you and say hello to you,” Gathright said. “They know exactly who you are.”

GOTR has two, 10-week long seasons a year: one in the fall and one in the spring. The girls meet twice a week to prepare for a 5K marathon at the end of the 1o weeks. In addition to the program for third to fifth graders, there is a program for sixth to eighth grade girls, as well. For more local information on GOTR, visit the Greater Kansas City metro area’s GOTR website.