- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

COBURG, Ore. (AP) - For the last two years, 9-year-old Anneliese Lewis says, she hasn’t cared what other people think about her.

Some of her peers at Coburg Community Charter School used to make fun of how she dressed, and they continue to tease her, she says.

“I didn’t care that much, but now I don’t care at all,” the fourth-grader says. “I try to be positive and do the right thing.”

Anneliese says she has gained self-confidence through an after-school female empowerment program, sponsored by “Girls on the Run,” a national nonprofit organization.

Anneliese and about 10 other female students at Coburg’s Girls on the Run 10-week program say they’ve learned how to accept themselves and to stay positive. They also learn how to deal with peer pressure, bullying, body image issues and how to stand up for themselves - all while preparing for a 5K run with other girls in the state.

This year’s run will be at Reser Stadium in Corvallis. The girls are practicing twice a week for 90 minutes each, from earlier this month until the 5K event in May.

The North Carolina-based agency provides curriculum and organizes 5K events for girls in grades three through eight. The program - which costs $150 per student - is at more than 200 schools across the country, and in Canada.

The Coburg charter school was the first in Lane County to offer the program three years ago. It has since expanded to seven other schools this year in the Eugene, Bethel, Springfield and Creswell school districts, says Coburg’s coach, Carleen McKillop.

McKillop says the program is designed to help girls just before they reach their teenage years and get in what McKillop calls a “girl box” - a time when girls can start to believe that they’re valued mostly for their looks.

“‘Run’ is in the name, so you’d think it was just a running program,” McKillop adds. “But it’s really about the curriculum and empowering girls on the inside.”

McKillop says she’s seen a difference in how girls who complete the program perceive themselves during the last three years.

“They learn how to look for the positive in things,” she says. “I can see on their faces more confidence throughout the season.”

Last week, the girls discussed the need to stop thinking negative thoughts about themselves. McKillop asked the girls to write on a piece of paper thoughts they’ve had about themselves.

“I’m too fat,” one girl wrote.

“I’m not pretty,” another wrote.

“I’m not good enough.”

They then took turns ripping the papers together and throwing them away. Afterward, the girls ran laps outside the school track while holding notes that detailed what they like about themselves.

Sixth-grader Taylor Richmond says she’s built physical strength and made new friends during her two years in the program.

“No one judges me here,” the 12-year-old says.

Families that can’t afford the full $150 program payment can seek scholarship options, says Rachel Young, Girls on the Run coach at Centennial Elementary School in Springfield.

Young, who teaches first grade at the Springfield school, started the Girls on the Run program in Coburg three years ago. This year is the first that the program has been at Centennial, and the team already has a waiting list, Young says.

“Every year, every girl really excels in her own way,” she says.

Young recalled crying as she put medals around the necks of her students as they finished the 5K - 3.1 miles - a few years ago.

“(The 5K) is an event the girls didn’t think they could do,” Young says. For some girls, running helps them realize their strength and talent. It can also relieve stress and helps girls deal with trouble at school or at home, she says.

“It’s so much more than just a running program,” Young says.

___

Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com


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