Inspiring Greenwood girls

Inspiring Greenwood girls
By ana-maria

At the end of the Girls on the Run program, girls are physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5K at their own pace. Here’s the Greenwood Elementary team last spring at the Girls on the Run 5K. Photo by Jeanne Bastasch.

One teacher’s dedication to helping girls flourish

By Jeanne Higgins, Founder, Girls on the Run of Puget Sound

Girls on the Run (GOTR), a national after-school program, uses physical activity as a springboard for introducing 3rd to 5th grade girls to important life skills lessons that increase confidence and self-esteem.

As one 3rd grade participant explained, “What I have learned is that everyone is stronger than they think they are. And I have learned that we can all be a better person.”

Girls on the Run is now a popular nationwide phenomenon—in 2016, GOTR had councils in all 50 states and served nearly 200,000 girls. But bringing a then­­-unknown program to Seattle 15 years ago was a tough sell.

In 2002, GOTR-International was still in its fledgling expansion years, and Puget Sound was one of a few outshoot programs across the country.

I was on my own figuring out how to grow the program, hitting the streets hard; visiting representatives of community centers, schools—any venue that would give the program support, and was not just a few coaches in a Seattle public park. I needed to find people who had the spark, the determination, and a true dedication to girls and their futures.

I found one of those special people thanks to a dog named Bruno. Greenwood Elementary Physical Education Teacher Jeannie Bastasch was running with her dog in the Furry 5K when she happened upon my GOTR information booth. Intrigued by the concept, she decided to pursue adding Greenwood Elementary as a GOTR site.

So 13 years ago, Greenwood Elementary became one of the first two Seattle Public Schools to host the program.

Jeannie certainly had (and still has!) the spark I was looking for, and has been an integral part of GOTR Puget Sound ever since.

According to Jeannie, the combination of “incredible” curriculum, and the dedication of passionate, well-trained volunteer coaches creates an empowering environment where girls can flourish.

As Jeannie explains, “When teachers try to meet unrealistic expectations in overcrowded and underfunded schools, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ leaving many girls getting praised for being quiet, good listeners, and not having the opportunity to be powerful, vocal leaders.  I’m aware of this. I’m a female teacher, and I’m still guilty of it myself.  Girls on the Run helps give girls their power, and their voice. In a safe environment, and at a crucial age, girls learn about self-esteem, body-image, countering negative self-talk, girl-specific bullying, and valuable leadership skills. Girls who I often think of as quiet and passive, come out of their shell, and find their voice after school in the program.”

Coach Emily agrees, “This has been an amazing opportunity to watch our girls grow and unite through physical, mental, and emotional triumphs.”

Now, thanks to the leadership of current Executive Director Kerin Brasch, and a dedicated staff, the program reached a phenomenal 1,400 girls last spring on 104 teams through the Greater Seattle area. This coming spring, they are aiming to reach 1,900 girls on 146 different teams.

It takes a community of dedicated people to make programs like GOTR a reality. But behind the scenes, there is always a shining star—or two or three—who believe in an idea, act on it, and bring others along.

Girls on the Run of Puget Sound is still looking for coaches for the Spring 2018 season. Learn More. 

Check out other volunteer opportunities here and save the date for the Girls on the Run 5k on Sunday, May 20!