In an effort to expand its after-school activities as well as outreach to its female students, Oregon Trail Academy has implemented Girls on the Run.
The nonprofit organization started in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C., with the simple mission of using running to empower and motivate girls to be confident and healthy.
"It (also) promotes women to be mentors to help teach girls to be healthy and active," Director Ginger Redlinger said.
Parent volunteer Genelle Tilden headed the active effort at Oregon Trail, leading 12 third-through-fifth-grade girls and a small group of female mentors in running together after school twice a week. Besides acting as a running partner, the women also taught the girls about good running practices, the importance of exercise, what it looks like to balance life and keeping a healthy fitness regimen. They also included a community service portion to show how to balance school, work and play with being a good citizen.
As part of the program, the girls planted flowers around the school grounds to help beautify their community.
"The children light up and they realize they could do things that are fun and are good for them," Redlinger explains. "They could have fun and they could be fit."
All of that exercise and training culminated in a large, conglomerate 5K race at Portland International Raceway on Saturday, May 20.
"I'm very proud of these girls and all their hard work," Tilden said in an email. "The Girls on the Run 5K isn't timed, so we have no official results. This program is more about teaching girls to recognize their potential, their inner strength, and to feel confident; so the running part is non-competitive."
That said, Tilden explains that the experience of the race was well worth the time for the girls.
"We tell the girls they can run, walk, skip or dance their way to the finish; as long as they keep moving forward," she said. "A great metaphor for life. The sense of accomplishment that comes from training for and completing the 5K, no matter their time, is so huge. They all did amazing; watching them each finish with their run buddies, smiling so proudly, was very moving."
Redlinger was originally a mentor for one of the fourth-grade girls, but because of a needed surgery, she was unable to continue running through the 5K weekend.
"It's been a wonderful program," Redlinger said. "It's very popular. The girls love it, and parents love it. It's fun to watch the kids setting goals for themselves."
Some girls found a new passion in running through the program, so Redlinger says the school will most likely continue Girls on the Run at the academy next school year.