LAKEVIEW— Just 10 minutes after the dismissal bell rang at Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts, 13 young girls, grades 3 through 5, buzzed about a second-floor classroom clad in bright-colored clothes and tennis shoes. The Girls on the Run group was prepped for their bi-weekly practice.
Lisa Pilcher, known as Coach Lisa, wrangled the girls into a seated circle, and began the short lesson on how to make healthy choices by listing pros and cons. Some girls listened attentively; some were active participants in the conversation.
Lilly raised her hand, “Every day, I eat four apples.”
“Four apples!” said Pilcher. Lilly nodded. “Holy moly, that’s a lot of apples!”
“The lessons we teach them are about healthy eating and taking care of their body,” said Pilcher. “It’s about respecting themselves, respecting others, and just making healthy choices.”
The lesson inside was short — 15 minutes — and the girls were ready to run. They rushed downstairs, busted out of the doors, and waved excitedly at other students who were playing at the park. After a quick stretch, the girls crowded close, threw one hand into a circle, and in unison cheered, “Girls on the Run is so much fun, Girls on the Run is number one! Woo!”
And with the “Woo!”, the girls whooshed off in a pack, sprinting down the sidewalk.
“I think it’s fun because you get extra time to see your friends,” said Ellie Giles, a third-grader who started the program this year. “It’s a good use of exercise, and I don’t always get a lot of exercise. If you don’t exercise you’re not going to have a healthy body, but it’s good to have a healthy body.”
Ellie said the most she ever run was six laps around the school — the equivalent of two miles. Pilcher said the program is by no means a competitive running program, although each semester-long session ends with a citywide 5K.
“The 5K is something we’re building up to, and they’re looking forward to,” Pilcher said. “They know it’s a big deal, they’re going to get a medal, and their parents are going to come out and support them.”
Pilcher, who’s a mother of three young boys and an avid marathon runner, said the running gives the girls a way to internalize the lessons they learn inside the classroom.
“They’re the most open when we’re running and when we’re one on one,” Pilcher said. “Sometimes you’ll hear about a lot of things that are on their minds or that bother them.”
The Alphonsus Academy “Girls on the Run” team will join 74 other Chicagoland teams on Nov. 10 for the 5K at Toyota Park.