Bellefonte Area School District program gets girls involved in exercise, nutrition

CDT photo

Run, walk, skip or jog.

It didn’t matter how they got around the track, they just had to make it to the end without giving up.

On Wednesday afternoon, 57 girls from the Bellefonte Area School District put on their running shoes for the “Girls Just Wanna Run” program at the middle school.

Pleasant Gap Elementary School guidance counselor Tara Condit led the group in a stretching session and warmup jog before hitting the track.

For sixth-grade student Shea Kelley, the program is a way to stay active during a season in which she isn’t participating in sports.

For classmate Hannah McKeague, 11, it’s a way to build up endurance so she can eventually run in a 5K race.

“That’s my goal,” she said. “It’s a nice way to hang with friends and find positivity with everyone, too.”

“Girls Just Wanna Run” is an eight-week program run by school district faculty and staff who volunteer their time every Monday and Wednesday until the end of October teaching fourth- to eighth-grade girls the importance of having a healthy lifestyle and how to boost self-esteem.

“We just want them to feel good about themselves,” said Jen Roth, a fourth-grade teacher at Pleasant Gap Elementary and a volunteer with the program.

The girls were required to run or walk around the middle school track, and the hourlong program ended with an evaluation session and a discussion about nutritional information and other healthy lifestyle habits — and the girls talked about happenings in their lives.

Benner and Marion-Walker elementary schools also are program sites.

There are 105 girls and about 15 volunteers in the program, Roth said.

“It’s exceeded our expectations in ways we couldn’t believe,” Roth said.

“The goal was to have 20 to 25. That’s what we expected.”

There are incentives for the volunteers as well.

At 59, Mary Miltenberger, sixth-grade teacher at Bellefonte Area Middle School, said that since the program started three weeks ago, she has lost eight pounds by participating with the girls.

“I’m the oldest teacher at the school, but still have the ‘oomph’ to keep up,” Miltenberger said.

On Wednesday, she was motivating the girls to continue their pace around the track, passing out tickets with positive phrases written on them.

Each girl started out with two tickets and received one more after each lap.

The mission was to collect cards with two matching phrases.

Pleasant Gap fourth-grader Bethany Book set a goal for herself to collect 10 cards.

By the end of the activity, she walked away with 12.

“Next week, I’ll try for 15,” the 9-year-old said.

On Nov. 1, the program finale will be a “Girls Just Wanna Run” 5K run/walk at Governor’s Park.

“This is the celebration where the girls can see that they accomplished something,” Roth said.

Roth said she hopes the program is enhanced next year by expanding the hours for the activities and counting steps that give the girls incentives for how much they run and walk.

“I think we see this as a long-term program,” Roth said.

“It’s building a positive relationship with their peers and their teachers who are involved, and building individual self-esteem.”