Several Prairieville Middle School students, all female and all wearing running shoes, sat in small groups working on posters May 7, requesting donations for animal rescue in Ascension Parish.

The students, taking part in the first Prairieveille Middle School Girls on the Run Program, chose animal welfare as their service project, which, in addition to physical fitness and confidence building, is a big part of the GOTR proram, said coaches Jennifer Gros, Susan Templet and Abby Netterville at their final practice before the summer GOTR 5K race May 9.

The girls have been building up their running distance slowly over the semester, at least those girls who have not participated in a 5K race before.

Several of the girls were part of the Prairieville Primary School GOTR team last year, and when Templet’s daughter moved to the sixth-grade this year, she moved over, as well, to start a team.

The idea behind GOTR is to incorporate lessons about good decision-making, confidence building and self-esteem into lessons about physical fitness.

Sixth-grader Allee Andry said that while she didn’t know anyone on the team before the semester began, they all got pretty close pretty quickly.

“We all became like sisters,” Allee said. “Our coaches told us to encourage each other (during the running exercises) and that let us get to know each other.”

Lily Gros said having 19 teammates cheering you on makes it more fun.

Before Saturday’s race, Maddie Turner, Sarah Templet and her sister Sydney were all confident they’ll get through the race with no problems. Sarah Templet set a goal of running the 5K in less than 30 minutes.

The students said goal-setting is also a big part of GOTR.

Abigail Norris said she has enjoyed the creative outlet she gets from the program, adding that it took a few weeks to get used to running long distances, but it got much better after that.

Aubrey Monceaux, Kayla Fortie, Jules DeFrances and Rylee Jacob all said they have had a lot of fun at the twice-weekly practices and see it as a way to spend time with their friends.

Kayla, Jules and Rylee said they all got especially close over the semester, especially after Rylee had surgery to removed a ruptured appendix.

“She was back running a week later,” Templet said.

Alexia Cobb learned not to be afraid of the unknown, she said, and to believe in herself and her teammates.

Addy Rush said this will be her third 5K, and she’s working on the goal of keeping a steady pace during the race.

“I’ve really watched them blossom over the last few weeks,” said Netterville.

The team also has a fourth coach, Renee Toepfer.

Sixteen girls went through the program, and of the 13 who started the Saturday race, Gros said, all 13 finished.