Pitter-pattering down the concrete street, tutus and sneakers whisk by onlookers and volunteers.
Some of the girls smile, others wear faces of determination, but all have the same goal: cross the finish line.
Each year, hundreds of girls throughout the country participate in Girls on the Run (GOTR), a 10-week, non-profit program aimed at developing “essential skills to help them navigate their worlds and establish a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness,” according to Cathie Brugnoli, north Georgia’s GOTR executive director.
Though many young women and children have affirmed the program’s benefits, a new study recently conducted by Maureen R. Weiss, a leading expert on youth development, validated it even further, finding the experience transforms girls’ lives.
“Girls on the Run participants scored higher in managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and making intentional decisions than participants in organized sport or physical education,” Weiss said. “Being able to generalize skills learned in the program to other situations such as at school or at home is a distinguishing feature of Girls on the Run compared to traditional youth sports and school physical education.
“[This] suggests that the intentional life skills curriculum and coach-training program can serve as exemplars for other youth programs.”
The program, which follows an “intentional curriculum,” emphasizes the development of competence, confidence, connection and character in young girls through lessons that incorporate running and other physical activities, Brugnoli said.
The goal, she said, is for girls to learn critical life skills, including managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and making intentional decisions.
“The study is huge for us,” she said. “It really shows we’re going in right direction and proves work we’re doing is changing the way girls see themselves.
“The program is important because [participants] are really seeing themselves as who they are rather than comparing themselves to others, and the sooner we can do that, the better we are at really engraining that information into them.”
According to the study, 97 percent of girls said they learned critical life skills at GOTR that they are using at home, at school and with their friends, and 70 percent — or 7 out of 10 girls — who improved from pre-season to post-season sustained improvements in competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, or physical activity beyond the season’s end.
Participants who were the least active before GOTR also increased their physical activity level by 40 percent from pre-season to post-season and maintained the level beyond the program’s end, the study said.
Brugnoli said this is just as important as emotional health.
“It’s so important that get kids out and active,” she said. “What’s even more important, though, is they do it in their own way.
“Girls can run, skip, jump or hop and GOTR allows them to not feel that pressure [to do something] that doesn’t feel right for them. We’ve had girls jump rope across finish line or do cartwheels to get there — it’s about getting them to the finish line in their own way.”