Girls on the Run Inspires Positive Self-Esteem and Fitness Habits among Elementary School Students

February 29, 2016

Half marathons just weren’t enough for running buddies Ebony Thomas and Kia Bryant. They were looking for more.

Thomas, a DPH epidemiologist and Bryant, a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisor at DPH, decided to take their enthusiasm for fitness off the running trails and into the lives of everyday people, the duo became coaches for Girls on the Run (GOTR), a Georgia Shape partner organization. They volunteered at Perkerson Elementary School in Atlanta with girls in the third, fourth and fifth grades.

GOTR employs running and other physical activities as a medium for teaching essential life skills and core values for living healthy lifestyle. The program contains all the social-contextual elements necessary of a positive youth development framework including an intentional curriculum, instructor training, a caring climate and supportive relationships. 

“Studies show that as girls mature from childhood to adolescence, levels of physical activity decline and risk for unhealthy outcomes like obesity, diabetes and depression become more prevalent,” said Stuart E. Dougherty, director of community outreach at GOTR. “Multiple factors are associated with lower physical activity among girls, including a decline in perceived competence, self-esteem and parental and peer support. For this reason, GOTR is an essential program as it is changing girls’ behaviors and attitudes towards physical activity.”

With their public health background and love of running, Thomas and Bryant used the GOTR curriculum to help the girls gain a better awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyle choices. 

“Girls on the Run encourages young girls to be active and to enjoy being fit and healthy,” said Bryant.” The program inspires the girls to be a positive voice even in negative situations. It also teaches them life skills to help them deal with negative people, environments and body image.” 

Thomas and Bryant met with students twice a week to review different lessons on girl empowerment, positive lifestyle choices and strengthening the community.

“GOTR provides the perfect environment to combine the science of public health and physical activity to change the future of these girls,” said Thomas. “I got involved in various activities at their age and it made a big difference in my adult and professional life.”

Physical activity is a core element of GOTR and includes strength and conditioning appropriate for this age group. The season culminates with the Girls on the Run 5K, which is the event that puts the positive life lessons the girls learned during the program front and center. The celebratory affair also gives the girls a tangible sense of goal setting and achievement.

“The girls were extremely proud of themselves for completing their 5K,” said Bryant. “They worked hard and accomplished a big goal, which was exciting to experience with them. We enjoyed the program as positive role models. Hopefully, we were able to get some of them on the right track to becoming lifelong runners, or at least remaining physically active in the future.”

Thomas agrees that becoming physically active now will make all the difference as the girls get older.

“We were proud of the girls for their knowledge of health, positive attitude and demonstrated sportsmanship as they crossed the finish line on race day,” she said. “We hope they will enjoy running or even participating in marathons as they continue to grow and develop throughout their life.”                                                    

There are approximately 1,500 participants in the GOTR program with the help of 450 GOTR coaches. Since 2000, GOTR has served more than 17,000 girls in metro Atlanta.

To learn more about Girls on the Run and how you can help young girls make healthy lifestyle choices, visit or contact Stuart Dougherty

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