When fourth- and fifth-grade girls in Kimberly Clopton’s class are feeling discouraged or maybe even a little upset, they head to the track.
It was there, on the North Iberville Elementary School track in Rosedale, where I caught up with Clopton’s Girls on the Run members.
Anyla Wilson, 11, told me how she learned to get rid of negative thinking during walks on the track with her clubmates.
“I don’t talk down to myself by saying things I can’t do,” she said.
Thanks to positive encouragement, Jamonet Knighten, 11, overcame some of her own doubts. “It gave me power, and I started believing that I can do it.”
That is precisely the attitude Clopton had hoped to achieve with the dozen girls she coaches on lessons beyond the textbook. She is part of Girls on the Run South Louisiana, a nonprofit 10-week program for girls in third through eighth grades in 50 schools in south Louisiana.
“It’s about getting the kids moving and taking the time to tell them and show them how important they are,” Clopton said.
About 500 girls and families are expected to participate in Saturday’s 5K, the program’s culminating event at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Clopton’s girls are ready now, but when they started some girls doubted they could do it, Clopton said.
“Our girls have done a great job this year with our weekly meetings and being positive about preparing for the run,” Clopton said.
But they didn’t just run or walk. They also talked about things — how to value what’s important, show gratitude, not gossip, give back and choose good friends, Clopton said.
Lessons are not always taught the traditional way, explained Anyla, who demonstrated by placing an imaginary card into her head while pretending to remove another.
“I put in a positive card and take the negative card out of my head,” she said.
Sometimes, Clopton might pass out cards containing lessons on healthy emotions that the girls must carry with them as they walk. Or, she might give them value statements and ask for their opinion by running to the signs that they agree on.
K’Laejah Christmas, 11, said she learned the value of choosing the right friends. “If you are down and they see you are down, they will help you get up,” she said.
Imani Martin, 11, learned to speak up. “I used to be shy, but Girls on the Run taught me how to talk and express myself.”
Clopton’s involvement with her girls is inspiring.
“I saw the need for something beyond just the usual after-school tutoring programs and activities,” she said. “I wanted something that would build them up.”
I plan to join her with her girls at Saturday’s 5K event.
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.