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Nearly 100 Central Park elementary girls celebrate running and personal growth with Colfax 5K

Cover photo: Nalayah Haqq, left, fourth grader at Ashley Elementary (adjacent to Central Park), celebrates with friends at the Girls on the Run 5K last fall. Photo courtesy of Ashley Elementary.

This Saturday (5/18), more than 2,000 third through fifth grade girls will cinch their ponytails, double knot their sneakers and tap into their “star power” as they take off on the Girls on the Run of the Rockies 5K in partnership with the Colfax Marathon race series.

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a national organization that celebrates the “star power” – or the power to shine – of female elementary students. Central Park GOTR spring chapters include teams from Isabella Bird Community School, Westerly Creek and Inspire elementary and William “Bill” Roberts K-8 School. Ashley Elementary across Montview Boulevard from Central Park offers GOTR in the fall. One hundred girls from Central Park are participating.

Maisie Hudson, in pom-pom headband, and her teammates from Isabella Bird Community School channel their “star power” after completing their Girls on the Run practice 5K on April 22. Photo courtesy of Izzi B.

“Girls on the Run uses the power of running to change the way girls see themselves and their opportunities,” says Lisa Johnson, executive director of Girls of the Run of the Rockies.

The end-of-season 5K for spring participants is a GOTR-only, non-competitive event in partnership with the Colfax Marathon. More than 100 Colorado schools from 14 districts from the Front Range will be represented in the May 18 run.

GOTR teams meet after school twice a week for 10 weeks. Practice begins with a lesson on social and emotional skills, such as taking time to breathe amidst frustration or cultivating healthy media habits, before the team stretches, walks and runs together. Girls set weekly lap goals and aim for more active minutes each week.

“We tell the girls from the beginning that our focus is to keep your body moving forward,” says Hannah Hudson, a GOTR coach at Izzi B. and mom to one of the third graders on the team. “We encourage them to walk if they need to, or they can hop, skip or jump.”

That advice has prepared Hudson’s daughter, Maisie, for the 5K. She says the program “has helped me be a stronger runner.”

Izzi B team celebrates after the fall 2023 Girls on the Run event. Photo courtesy of Izzi B.

The goal of training for a 5K is for girls to “stretch themselves physically, emotionally and socially,” Johnson explained. “At Girls on the Run, we envision a world where all girls know and activate their limitless potential and are free to boldly pursue their dreams.”

Ashley physical education teacher and GOTR coach Kelly Donnelly believes the program empowers students to “achieve hard things not just in running,” she says.

“As they set goals throughout the whole program. They see where they can push themselves and are encouraged to motivate others. They grow in strength physically as well as psychologically.”

In light of the many new students at Ashley that immigrated from South America this year, Donnelly has especially appreciated how GOTR fosters friendships and “builds the girls’ confidence as they share what they are learning and feeling.”

Ashley fourth grader Nalayah Haqq says one of her favorite parts of GOTR is the games they play during the lesson time.  “They taught me how to be more open with my emotions,” she says.

Haqq looks forward to the 5K each season, when the Ashley teammates spray glitter into their hair and run alongside a teacher, parent or coach.

“The end of the run is fun,” says Haqq. “There’s a huge snack bar, and everyone is cheering for you.”

Donnelly’s own life has been transformed by GOTR. She volunteered as a community coach while working in fundraising but says, “All I really wanted to do was Girls on the Run.

“Then I realized: Teaching social-emotional learning through movement is a career, and it’s called being a PE teacher.”

Donnelly has led GOTR at Ashley since coming to the school three years ago.

“I want to always be in a community,” she says, “where whatever it is that I am presenting to kids is something they might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.”

 Alex Foster brought GOTR back to Bill Roberts in 2022, both because she was looking for an extracurricular activity her daughter could do outdoors with friends and because “it was platform where we could talk about things related to emotional and social development, which for all of us had really been affected by the pandemic.”

The 24 girls who signed up for the first season were soon learning to name emotions and positively communicate feelings.

“Some of our girls who have been with us each season are now fifth graders, and we have seen so much growth,” Foster says. “When I look I them, I think, ‘You’re going to be an amazing middle schooler.’”

Foster noted that running pairs well with social and emotional learning because it is a joyful activity.

“Girls on the Run is putting them on a path where this thing that comes very naturally can help them stay active and manage stress for the rest of their lives.”

Recognizing the power of GOTR to support students, Bill Roberts and Ashley Elementary recently partnered with a separate organization, Boys on the Right Track (BOTRT), to bring a similar mix of social and emotional learning, plus running, to the male population of their schools.

The two Central Park boys teams will run in the community-wide Colfax 5K on May 18 after the girls finish the GOTR-dedicated run of the Colfax Marathon series.

José Estrada, fourth grader at Ashley, runs laps during practice with Boys on the Right Track. Photo courtesy of Ashley Elementary.


José Estrada, a fourth grader at Ashley, says BOTRT has taught him about pacing, working with others and making friends.

“I learned to keep a certain pace where you’re running so you can keep on running more and more,” he says. “And I learned about how to respect others and myself and made new friends.”

Ivan Delcid, also a fourth grade Ashley student, says BOTRT has given him “bigger leg muscles.” While Delcid is “a little nervous” about the 5K, he has a plan:

“I will tell myself, ‘I can do it if I try.’”

Ashely draws on a grant from DPS to cover the cost for student runners, while other schools use PTA funds to fill in gaps. Team sizes are based on the number of teacher, parent and community volunteer coaches.



(Periodically the Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities gives grants and technical support to Central Park schools.)

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