Pocopson Elementary School students train for Kennett Run

Girls on the Run and Stride programs promote fitness, friendships and fun

By Suzanne Misciagna, Correspondent, UnionvilleTimes.com

The Girls on The Run program from Pocoposon Elementary School is getting ready to compete in the Kennett Run this weekend. From left, back row: Coach Morgan Gamble, Coach Cris Roberto, Caroline Koberg, Devna Chopra, Cate Raihall, Molly Carson, Bryce Young, Coach Beth Carson; middle row: Grace Welsh, Megan Brutscher, Alexa Ploskonka, Meghan Smith, Paris Conord, Sarah Padula, Coach Stacey Cunningham; front row: Morgan Spano, Catherine Clisham, Kaitlyn Cunningham, Andrea Roberto, Jill Anderson Not pictured: Anna Greenstein, Emma Holinsky, Sarah Morrison

POCOPSON – Twice a week, students at Pocopson Elementary School in the Unionville Chadds-Ford School District tackle the hilly terrain around the school with a long afternoon run. These students aren’t just letting off a little steam once the school day is done; they’re training for an important race – the Kennett Run. With a little help from their coaches, who are part of the Girls on the Run and Stride running programs, these boys and girls hope to achieve their fitness goals while having fun.

Girls on the Run is an international program aimed at training elementary school-aged girls in third through fifth grade for a 5K (3.1 mile) run event while building self-esteem and encouraging positive social, mental, spiritual, and physical development. There are approximately 820 girls enrolled in Girls on the Run in Chester County with 60 teams and programs in 47 schools.

A similar program for boys called Stride also encourages physical fitness in boys in third through fifth grade with an emphasis on respect, responsibility, and building character. 160 boys are enrolled in 15 teams across the country.

Approximately 200 coaches volunteer their time with the programs to help the kids reach their fitness goals.

Members of the Pocopson Elementary School Stride program will also compete in Saturday's Kennett Run. From left, front row: Cooper Smith, Kyle D'Arcy, Connor Tierney; middle row: Coach Sarah Martin, Nick Pickar, Arion Farhi, Brandon Misciagna, Coach Christy Pickar; back row: Sebastian Graper

Both programs are offered through the YMCA of the Brandywine Valley and are held twice a week after school at Pocopson Elementary during the fall and spring seasons. These programs are also offered at most elementary schools in the district.

The Girls on the Run and Stride students will run together for a 5K race on May 19 as part of the 23rd annual Kennett Run held in downtown, Kennett Square.

“Girls on the Run is a great program,” says Morgan Gamble, one of four coaches for the Girls on the Run Program offered at Pocopson. And, as Gamble explains, the program isn’t just all about running.

“Each practice session, there is a lesson of the day and a corresponding activity,” adds Gamble. “Then we incorporate the running.”

The lessons cover many important core values of the program such as responsibility, optimism, gratitude, and living a healthy lifestyle.

“When we focused on the lesson of gratitude,” says Gamble, “each girl would run one lap around the school and then stop and write down what they were grateful for.”

Alexa Ploskonka, a fourth grader at Pocospon, liked the program so much in the fall that she enrolled again this spring. “Girls on the Run is fun,” says Ploskonka. “We have nice coaches who encourage us to do well. We also make a lot of great friends,” she adds.

At the end of each session, one girl is nominated by her peers for the ‘energy award’ which recognizes a girl for a good deed.

Much like Girls on the Run, Stride was created to foster fitness in boys while promoting teamwork, respect, and determination. Heather Connolly, Coordinator of Stride and Girls on the Run for the Brandywine Valley YMCA, created Stride two years ago after requests from parents for a similar running program designed specifically for boys.

“Stride fills a niche for many boys in providing them with a safe and supportive environment focused on improving their overall fitness while developing character,” says Connolly. Each session also incorporates a lesson which ties in with an activity. “Activities focus on teamwork, not competition,” emphasizes Connolly.

At the end of each session, one Strider receives a ‘dog tag’ in recognition of ‘Strider of the Day’ for showing character such as helping a buddy out or for trying hard.

“It’s not how fast you run,” says Connolly, “it’s all about helping one another and developing good character traits that will serve the boys throughout their life,” she adds.

Like the Girls on the Run Program, no prior running experience is necessary for Stride.

“The program begins with 10-20 minutes of running and then progresses from there,” says Connolly. “The boys run for time not for distance with the goal of building their cardiovascular systems,” she adds. “Completion of the 5K is a huge self-esteem booster,” says Connolly. “The kids feel good about themselves after achieving their goals.”

According to Christy Pickar, one of the Stride coaches at Pocopson this season, “The great thing about Stride is that it’s available to boys of all shapes and sizes. They don’t need to be runners to join the program. And, the boys get to be part of a team but they also set individual goals for themselves too.”

The Striders couldn’t agree more.

“I find that Stride helps me with other sports I do, like running for soccer and basketball,” says Arion Farhi, a fourth grade student at Pocopson who has participated in Stride for two years. Fellow runner, Connor Tierney, a fifth grader at Pocopon and a first time Strider, agrees. “Stride helps me on the soccer field. It also feels good when I accomplish my goals.”

Pickar is so enthusiastic about the program that she even encouraged the boys to invite their teachers to join them on their running excursions. One person who accepted the boys’ invitation was Pocopson Elementary Principal, Dr. Andrew McLaughlin, who braved the hills of Pocopson to accompany the boys on their afternoon run.

Pocopson’s principal isn’t the only one who was inspired by the boys’ fitness routine. Many parents have been motivated to start their own training to run the 5K with their kids. In addition, many coaches have initiated their own running/fitness routines as a result of the program.

“The enthusiasm of the boys is the best part,” says Pickar. “It is infectious. It makes you want to run too.”

For more information on the Girls on the Run or Stride running programs, contact Heather Connolly at GirlsontheRun@ymcabwv.org.  Both programs need coaches for the fall season which begins September 24. Contact Heather Connolly if you are interested in coaching one of the teams.

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