By Cindy Zomar, Education Coordinator
MARLBOROUGH – After a particularly challenging school year everywhere, Amy Fitzgibbon, an Adjustment Counselor at the new Goodnow Brothers Elementary School in Marlborough, found a way to give some of the school’s students a bit of an outlet by introducing Girls on the Run, a nationally recognized non-profit focusing on empowering girls.
She admitted that even though everyone had a difficult school year, for the 5th graders at Goodnow, it was even more pronounced.
“In March of 2020, school shut down,” Fitzgibbon said. “When it started again in the fall, Goodnow had opened, so these kids were attending a new school with a lot of new people. Initially, it was hybrid but then went full-remote until recently. After only a few months together, they are leaving to attend the Whitcomb Middle School. They really didn’t have a chance to form any bonds with their new classmates.”
A pilot program
Last year, Fitzgibbon and a coworker at Jaworek Elementary School had been trained to start the Girls on the Run program there. But COVID-19 changed everything.
Fitzgibbon moved to the new school in September and soon saw that the girls needed a way to build connections, recognize their feelings and learn to stand up for themselves.
“We got the okay to start this spring, with Superintendent Mike Bergeron and Principal Amy Mulkerin both on-board immediately,” she said. “We decided on just one group this year, as a pilot program. We got fourteen girls, which is a manageable size. There are four of us who work as a team,” she continued.
Fitzgibbon’s fellow mentors include School Psychologist Mikayla Merksamer, Educational Team Liaison Annemarie Stewart and ELL Teacher Alexis Hovanesian.
Meetings twice per week
Dividing up tasks and playing to each other’s strengths, the staff meets with the girls twice a week after school during the school year. They had excellent attendance from the members, Fitzgibbon said.
“We asked the 5th-grade teachers to talk to their classes and were fortunate to get representation from every class,” she continued. “We had fifteen slots and were planning to use a lottery system, but it wasn’t necessary this year.”
Positive elements to build self-confidence
The program stresses healthy habits, proper hydration, a nutritious diet and good decision-making. Running, strengthening and conditioning are key elements of the program as well.
There is a curriculum to follow with conversation starters and icebreakers beginning each meeting. After a snack period to let students decompress, students then run around their school campus. Energy Awards and cheering end each gathering.
Thanks to donations from local companies and the Marlborough Public Schools, the small participation fees for each girl were covered.
On June 19, the group celebrated the end of their season with a 5k run/walk.
“Some will walk with me, some will run,” Fitzgibbon said before the event. “Their families are invited too.”
Ending with a 5K
A diverse group of girls and the mentors primarily used translators and email to connect with families and get messages out this year.
Speaking with the Community Advocate last month, Fitzgibbon said she thinks that next year should be easier when group leaders like herself can meet the families in person. She said she’d like to see separate groups for third, fourth and fifth-grade girls.
She noted that the girls have all been enthusiastic and have done everything asked of them.
Fitzgibbon went on to say that the program is the favorite part of her day.
“It’s a time to let them just be girls, be dramatic, be goofy, whatever they want,” she said. “I feel like this is so worthwhile. If they just make friendships and have fun, it’s been a success.”
More information on Girls on the Run can be found at their website, https://www.girlsontherun.org.