Girls on the Run of Lancaster and Lebanon will not be chased away by COVID-19.

The widely praised self-esteem program for girls nationwide in grades three to eight is back this spring, with modifications to provide pandemic safety.

“At Girls on the Run, social-emotional learning is the cornerstone of the award-winning, research-based lessons,” according to a release from the local chapter.

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Girls on the Run “supports girls in identifying and processing their emotions, a skill that is critically important in today’s world.”

The parent organization oversees both Girls on the Run, which is for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, and Heart & Sole, for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

This spring’s program begins March 29 and climaxes May 22 with a noncompetitive 5K run.

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Participants “learn who they are as a person,” building confidence and resiliency, Jennifer West, program director of Girls on Run of Lancaster and Lebanon, told LebTown.

Confronting questions about fitting in as part of their daily lives, they’re given tools “to celebrate their uniqueness,” she said, and how to get that point across to others.

The girls are also taught about cooperation, teamwork – and conflict resolution. “They’re facing that more than ever,” West said.

“It’s about being a whole person,” she said, with strengths and weaknesses.

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The program, a combination of physical activity and learning, drew 110 teams and 1,400 girls last year in Lancaster and Lebanon counties, West said. “We’re in every school district.”

In addition to the end-of-season 5K, where the girls choose a running buddy age 16 or older, they also take part in a community impact project. That could be, for example, writing get-well cards to hospitalized patients, planting flowers or collecting food bank items, she said.

“Physical isolation and related stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly affected our children,” the release noted, so a program like Girls on the Run is even more vital today.

Some of the adaptations for safety made this spring include alternative sites where girls can meet, such as parks, community centers and churches; a virtual program that connects girls social and emotionally, with a physical activity component, too; and smaller teams.

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Also, the release noted, the program was reduced from 10 to eight weeks; there’s flexibility in practice days and times; modifications were made to adhere to social distancing protocols and lessen exposure; and each girl will receive her own bag to hold her materials for the season.

“By following current COVID-19 guidelines, Girls on the Run is confident girls will be able to join a team and experience the much-needed positive encouragement from their peers and trained coaches,” the release said.

Registration for program, on gotrlancaster.org, begins March 1. The cost is $175 per girl, but financial assistance is available, West said.

Fifty-three percent of participants receive some sort of assistance, she said, and no girl is turned away.

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West said they are still looking for locations where teams can gather to practice safely. “We’re trying to get this in every spot we can.”

Each team has three coaches and will practice twice a week for 1.5 hours.

At this point, “we’re not sure what the 5K will look like” at the end of May, she said.

“Regardless of the size and location of the celebratory 5K,” the release said, “we promise it will be a powerful and memorable experience.”

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