True show of strength
In 2013, Patti Freeman, a teacher at Couchiching Heights Public School, unveiled a new running program for girls at the north-end school. It was all about providing the students an opportunity to learn about, among other things, the importance of fitness.
“We felt like there was a lack of girls’ running programs that were reasonably priced so that girls could afford to join them,” Freeman explained at the time. “We came up with a plan that was going to be much more equitable for everyone to join it and get the benefits of running.”
Freeman christened the program Girlstrong – a catchy name that is not just symbolic. Each letter in the name represents a characteristic or value that is taught through the program: goals, individuality, respect, leadership, strength, teamwork, resilience, optimism, nutrition and growth.
While the program started small, with a few dozen girls at a single school, the following year, when Freeman moved to Uptergrove Public School, she brought the program with her. With the help of teacher Diane Barr, the decision was made to offer the innovative regimen to other area schools.
The dynamic duo developed a comprehensive curriculum spelling out the content of the six-week program that is offered to girls in grades 3-8 after school. The program quickly caught on and grew to eight schools in 2015. This year, 18 elementary schools in Orillia and seven schools in other parts of Simcoe County participated in Girlstrong.
Each year, the six-week program culminates with a celebration run. This year’s event was staged at Tudhope Park, where more than 550 girls from the Orillia area schools converged to run a three-kilometre circuit around the scenic Lake Couchiching shoreline. A similar event was held Friday at Earl Rowe Provincial Park for the other county schools.
It was a carnival-like atmosphere at Tudhope Park. Freeman and Barr exhorted the girls, who cheered wildly as they assembled, shoulder to shoulder with their friends, for the run. Officials from Back to Function led the girls in warm-up drills before they motored around the park, unfazed by grey skies and drizzling rain as dozens of volunteers helped ensure the runners stayed on track.
To witness the blizzard of blue shirts and the smiles on the faces of the girls running was like watching your favourite band in concert – you didn’t want it to end. The enthusiasm and energy and excitement was palpable.
Not only did the vast majority of students finish strong, over the course of the program they learned about healthy lifestyles, setting and achieving goals – they learned about empowerment and were taught values that will be important for the rest of their life.
Freeman and Barr deserve tremendous credit for developing and growing this life-changing program. Its success is a testament to their hard work and passion and we owe them and all the teachers and volunteers who have helped amplify the program a hearty round of applause for a job well done. Its legacy is a generation of stronger girls.
– The Packet & Times