Twenty-four girls at Ridgewood Elementary School are conditioning their minds and bodies this fall.
Patterned after a national program, the Girls on the Run extracurricular activity is in its third season at Ridgewood.
When implemented, only some Columbus schools and those in Westerville and Bexley offered the program in central Ohio. Since then, other school districts have launched programs, and this year, Norwich Elementary School became the second Hilliard school to offer it.
"It's designed to help girls be the best they can be and to have confidence," said Caitlin Beck, a reading intervention teacher who instituted the program at Ridgewood Elementary School.
"Girls on the Run has influenced me a lot. I really believe in myself now," said Ridgewood fifth-grader Audrey Cave.
Beck and Kristine Cave, a fifth-grade teacher at Ridgewood and Audrey's mother, have been coaches for Girls on the Run since the start of the program.
The 12-week course is offered each fall and spring and filled on a first-come, first-served basis for girls in the third, fourth and fifth grades. Participating families donate to fund refreshments served at meetings and materials for the program.
Students are permitted to take the course more than once.
Students meet for 90 minutes each Monday and Wednesday and discuss how to respond to bullying, gossip, peer pressure and the basis for good decision-making.
"We help girls with building healthy relationships with their peers," Beck said.
"It doesn't matter if you have blonde, brown or black hair ... or short or tall ... you're perfect," said fifth-grader McKenzie Cain.
In addition to character development, girls learn about healthful diets and physical fitness.
"During the course, we give out 'energy awards' to girls with the best attitudes," Beck said.
Each course ends with a 5K run. The fall class run for all Girls on the Run students in central Ohio schools is set Nov. 16 at Genoa Park in Columbus.
"My favorite part of Girls on the Run is the 5K you do at the end," said Ridgewood fifth-grader Allie Brown. "When you are sprinting to the finish line and everyone is cheering you on, it feels really good to cross the finish line."
The girls also perform a service project as a course requirement. Last year, the Ridgewood class collected hygienic products to donate to a homeless shelter.
"This year, the girls knew about Elijah Love (a Beacon Elementary School student killed in a car crash in September) and wanted to help his family," Beck said.
The girls are assisting the Ridgewood student council with its fundraising campaign selling and distributing "pumpkin-grams" at the school.