Nine-year-old Kayden Guilbeaux doesn’t suffer bullies lightly.
“It makes me feel sad.”
Or unrealistic body images forced on girls through mass media.
“I think that girls shouldn’t do that — it’s just not right.”
How is a kid headed into fourth grade at Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau even aware of body image? Girls on the Run.
Begun in 1996 in North Carolina, the program has spread, largely through word of mouth, across the United States and Canada. It found its way into New Orleans, Houma and Baton Rouge several years ago, beginning in the capital city with two dozen participants at two schools and growing to more than 500 girls at 30 schools in BR alone.
The semester-long program held in the fall and spring is ostensibly, as the name implies, about training for a 5K race, the final celebration of Girls on the Run. But GOTR isn’t solely about physical fitness.
“While they are training for a 5K, they’re doing so much more than that,” says Hydie Wahlborg, executive director of Girls on the Run Louisiana. “At each team meeting they’re presented with a lesson that is designed to give them tools to deal with issues that girls their age deal with as they grow into adolescence. So they’re learning how to deal with gossip and bullying and how to have a positive body image, how to be part of a team, and beyond that how to recognize that they’re part of more than their peer group — they’re part of their community and part of the world.”
Girls on the Run, designed for kids in third through fifth grade, is the sister program to Girls on Track, which continues the life lessons for girls in sixth through 8th grade. GOTR costs $160 per semester, but Wahlborg notes that the fee is based on a sliding scale determined by a family’s ability to pay, and nearly half the girls who participate do so for free thanks to scholarships funded by grants and corporate sponsorships.
|Girls on the Run participants at Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau|
Back in Acadiana, Kayden’s mom, Amber Guilbeaux, was so impressed by the program after she and Kayden participated in a GOTR 5K in Baton Rouge that she became coach of her daughter’s team. Her team nickname: Coach Awesome.
“I love coaching it, and I’ll probably continue to coach even after my daughter moves on,” Amber says. “I love watching the girls — you see them grow not only physically, but you see them change right before your eyes over the 10 weeks. In the beginning they’re walking more and at the end they’re running more. And seeing them grow as a person — you see them form friendships — brings me so much joy.
“It’s changed me as a person; it’s just filled a part of me that was missing. I wish they would’ve had something like that when I was young.”
Both Amber Guilbeaux and Wahlborg, who has had two daughters in GOTR, say girls today are bombarded with images in popular culture of how they should behave, how they should dress, how their bodies should look — catalysts for gossip, bullying and self-destructive behavior. Teaching girls to respect themselves as they are, and to do the same with others, is the prime objective of the program. Getting fit and making exercise part of their day-to-day routine is lagniappe.
“We know that girls, when they reach adolescence, they go into this place that we call the girl box, and it’s morphed into what they think they should be instead of who they really are,” Wahlborg says. “We want to inspire girls to stay true to themselves and that’s what Girls on the Run does. The curriculum is based on research in adolescent growth and development and it was evaluated and studied and proven that girls who go through the program leave the program feeling more empowered and confident with a more positive body image.”
Training for the 5K gives the girls a common goal. But it’s the fellowship and self-esteem lessons along the way that really matter.
Last fall was the inaugural GOTR at the Grand Coteau all-girls Catholic school. Amber Guilbeaux says they had eight girls that first semester. It more than doubled into two teams by the spring, and more participants are expected when the program resumes for the approaching fall semester.
“Our school, thankfully, is so 100 percent behind it — they love everything that’s behind Girls on the Run, what it teaches besides the running,” she says. “You can see it in the girls; it teaches them to be better girls.”
Wahlborg has been in discussions with the Lafayette Parish School System about starting GOTR teams in the Hub City. She says the LPSS has been receptive to the program.
But there’s no better recruiter for Girls on the Run than the girls themselves. “It’s so much fun,” gushes Kayden Guilbeaux, who may be short on words but doesn’t lack for enthusiasm. “You learn how to be positive. You do fun activities.”
For more on the program, visit GOTR’s website at GirlsOnTheRunGBR.org.
The board hopes to recover all fees paid, plus one-half, along with what could amount to hundreds of thousands in additional penalties.
Oh, the irony... or something like that.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
St. Patty's Day crafts
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.