‘Star power’ aplenty in Girls on the Run program

Northwood students tap into social/emotional learning and more.

Northwood Elementary’s Girls on the Run program crossed the finish line with stellar results this fall.

During its first session on Mercer Island, locals took the national program to heart and imbued the critical elements of running, character-building and social/emotional learning into the weekly schedules of 13 girls in grades 3-5.

After two months of twice-weekly morning lessons and activities at the school, the girls joined their running buddies, coaches, Mercer Island High School (MIHS) volunteers and Northwood supporting staff in tackling a program-culminating 5K run on Nov. 15.

One of the three coaches, Kristen Roeter, said the girls shared a collective goal of completing the 5K and achieved it with the positive movements of running, walking, skipping and jumping.

“It was really fun to see the girls working toward that together and then cheering each other on and feeling that sense of accomplishment at the end,” said Roeter, who was joined by fellow coaches Andrea Plichta and Annie Cudney and MIHS volunteers Ari Nguyen and Iman Noorani to roll out the program. At the 5K, parents and siblings joined teachers and Northwood Principal Julie Newcomer to root the girls toward success.

Added Plichta: “As a coach, it’s rewarding to introduce running to elementary students and to watch the girls work hard and achieve their goals. Girls on the Run is focused on building fitness, life skills and confidence, which I see as the great benefits for young people.”

Plichta noted that girls in grades 3-5 are at a pivotal time in their development, and the program also presented an essential bonding experience between the girls as they strove to attain their ultimate goal of finishing the 5K.

“There was so much support from the Northwood staff, family and friends. It was a fantastic celebration of their perseverance and hard work,” Plichta said.

The Northwood Girls on the Run seeds were sown when Plichta and others aimed to start a local program before the pandemic hit. After the idea was tabled for about two years, Northwood PTA President Cathy Chen released a flier asking for coaches to help put the program into action.

Roeter jumped on board since she had volunteered with the program after graduating from college and now has a third-grade daughter who can benefit from its aforementioned tools of learning and growing. For all the girls and their parents, they can apply those important lessons to situations in school and at home.

Third-graders Rinesa Halili, Reagan Rahlfs and Elsie Roeter discussed their experiences with the Girls on the Run program on a recent afternoon at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center.

Halili explained the meaning of each letter of the HEART lesson that the girls delved into: A good friend, “helps you; encourages you; accepts you; really listens to you; treats you with kindness.”

Using one’s “star power” — or happiness — to push through a cloudy or negative scenario was one of Halili’s favorite learning moments.

“If you see somebody feeling blue, some ways we would help them is we would go and ask them, ‘Do you need comfort? or ‘Do you want help with something?’” she added.

Rahlfs echoed her friend’s sentiment about helping others in need, and added that she enjoyed unleashing her running skills while being a team player and listening to the coaches.

“We learned how to make friends ourselves and we learned how to include others and be good teammates,” she said.

Elsie Roeter found merit in everything about Girls on the Run, from cheering for each other during the 5K to overcoming a tough situation.

For example, if bullying occurs at school, Elsie said they were taught to, “Take a breath, talk to them and say, ‘I don’t like this, because …; I don’t like when you do this, because …; Next time, I would like you to …’” (They will fill in the blanks if incidents arise.)

As she glanced at her daughter and her friends, Kristen Roeter said she appreciates how mentor-mentee relationships have formed between the older and younger girls to help each other navigate their school journeys.

“Now they have friends that are in older grades that they can turn to if they’re having those cloudy days and they can all activate their ‘star power’ together,” she said.

For more information on the program, visit https://www.gotrpugetsound.org.