Girls on the Run returns to normal after inventive response to pandemic

by Laura Bednar

The Lee Eaton and Northfield Elementary “Girls on the Run” teams returned to a regular format this season after the pandemic forced them to find creative ways to continue programming.

Girls on the Run is a national nonprofit that aims to strengthen the social, emotional and physical health of girls in grades 3-8, according to The two Nordonia schools have participated in the program for several years. This year, the Lee Eaton team was composed of 13 fifth- and sixth-graders; 15 girls in grades three and four made up the Northfield Elementary team.

Teams practice at their respective schools, but last year they had to find new locations. Lee Eaton coach Kathy Dickriede said to maintain COVID-19 protocols, the team practiced at an outdoor pavilion at the United Methodist Church of Macedonia.

“It was an exciting season,” Dickriede said, adding that there was a virtual option for girls to participate, as well. “Girls were connected to learning that crosses geographical lines.”

Program director for the Northeast Ohio District of Girls on the Run, Dani Elliott, said Northfield did not have its own team last year, but the Lee Eaton team was marketed as a community group to include Northfield girls.

“I’ve heard from a lot of sites that kids struggled during COVID,” Elliott said. “[Continuing the program] gave girls the space to process their emotions.”

Dickriede said the pandemic took a toll on the girls’ mental health, and continuing the program helped them squelch negative feelings. She has been a coach for almost six years and lives in Northfield Center.

“I’m glad to impact my own community,” she said.

A person doesn’t have to be a runner to coach, and all curriculum comes from Girls on the Run International. In addition to physical exercise, the girls spend time twice a week during the eight-week season working on communication skills that relate to emotions, feelings and everyday situations.

Elliott said each session has a theme, like friendship, emotion and confidence building. Within each category is a lesson, such as positive and negative self-talk where girls write down what they’ve said about themselves, good and bad. “There is a lot of self-reflection,” Elliott said.

Dickriede said the girls discover their feelings by talking to each other, and the program “teaches empathy and compassion.”

Each team also creates a community impact project for the season. This year, the Lee Eaton team raised money for the homeless and The Emergency Assistance Center by running laps in the Lee Eaton parking lot and getting sponsors for each lap. Girls learned about TEAC from the staff and asked people for donations.

The season ended in May with a district-wide 5K run at Canal Park Stadium in Akron. Dickriede said transportation was provided through the school system to ensure every girl could participate.

“We eliminate barriers to participation,” she said. ∞