Orleans Elementary School Participates In Nationwide Running Program

by Leia Green
Members of the Girls on the Run program display kindness rocks they created. COURTESY PHOTO Members of the Girls on the Run program display kindness rocks they created. COURTESY PHOTO

ORLEANS – Last Thursday at Orleans Elementary School, a group of girls between 8 and 10 years old sat in a circle with criss-crossed legs and deliberated which roles each of them would take on when painting their “kindness rocks.”

“Pencil passers,” “paper passers,” and “rock washers” were quickly picked and the students began painting, swapping markers and smiles.

The kindness, confidence, and tolerance displayed by these young girls has been fostered through their involvement in the nationwide Girls on the Run program, a social improvement program for girls in the third, fourth, and fifth grades that culminates in an annual celebratory 5k run in Boston.

ESL teacher Paige Sullivanat introduced the program to the school two years ago.

“It’s really a social, emotional program before it’s a running program,” Sullivan said. “It prioritizes helping girls in grades three through five build confidence, because research shows that’s when their confidence and self-esteem starts to go down a bit.”

The program consists of approximately two months of biweekly training sessions which involve running or walking exercises built around a specific theme. Sullivan recalled a past session focused on “positive self-talk,” during which the girls found ways to turn negative thoughts into positive ones with each lap they ran.

All these training sessions paid off on Saturday, when the 15 girls involved in the program completed the 5k run in Boston alongside hundreds of other students from across greater Boston. For Sullivan, who has been involved in the program for seven years, watching the faces of her students crossing the finish line each year has been a consistent highlight.

“It's a big deal for them and they definitely feel proud of their hard work and everything that they've done,” Sullivan said, tearing up. “Just as a woman and as a girl, it’s beautiful to see.”

Another key aspect of the Girls on the Run program is the community impact project, which helps the girls “learn the importance” of their community and how they can make a difference, said Sullivan. This year, the girls adorned “kindness rocks” with encouraging messages and drawings as gifts for the Snow Library and the Firebirds summer baseball team.

“The community impact program, it’s really supposed to be in the hands of the girls,” Sullivan said during the rock painting session on Thursday. “Which is why we were asking them how they thought it should work and who should take which jobs.”

The community impact project and numerous training sessions have been made possible by the six teachers who have volunteered their time to the Girls On The Run program. All volunteers were trained in Boston, where they learned about lesson structures, safety measures, and how to enforce positivity, Sullivan said.

“There is a lot that goes into it, but it’s really rewarding,” Sullivan said.

Kara Yuen, a volunteer and the librarian at Orleans Elementary School, praised Sullivan for how she brought the program to the school.

“She really knew the ropes and she’s been a great leader for us,” Yuen said. “There’s a lot of moving parts and she’s just a great facilitator.”

The program has allowed friendships to surpass grade divisions, as girls from the third, fourth and fifth grades have had the opportunity to meet regularly and bond.

“It’s just really nice to see that camaraderie develop and strengthen throughout the season,” Sullivan said.

Girls on the Run was founded in 1996, and has served over two million young girls nationwide. In greater Boston alone, the program has garnered 16,000 participants since 2010, according to the Girls On The Run Greater Boston website.

“Girls on the Run offers programs designed to inspire girls of all abilities to recognize and embrace their inner strength and make meaningful connections with others,” according to the program’s website. “In today’s unpredictable world, the strategies learned at Girls on the Run are more important than ever.”

As they painted Firebird logos and books onto their rocks, the girls expressed nothing but gratitude for their experience with the program. Penelope Lingoes, a fifth grader, said it has made her a kinder person.

“It takes all the mean out of you,” Lingoes said.