GUEST POST BY isabel cheesman, girls on the run coach.
From GIRLS ON THE RUN participant to coach, Isabel Cheesman is in it for the long run, literally.
She first became involved with the nonprofit when she was in elementary school as a participant at a sister site in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Little did young Isabel know, she would be coaching for that very program over a decade later.
With over 200 national subsidiaries, Girls on the Run is an after-school youth development program serving girls in the 3rd-5th grade through lessons on social and emotional learning with an emphasis on physical activity to increase confidence.
Isabel gained experience mentoring students while earning a double degree in English and business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. During that time, the 22-year-old student would also be introduced to Teach For America, a nonprofit that finds, builds, and places leaders in classrooms across the nation.
Like a moth to a flame, she was drawn toward the organization’s core values in supporting equity among education, particularly in communities that lack adequate access to opportunities and resources.
So she packed her bags, bid farewell to her life in Nebraska, and moved 645 miles to the 901 where she started her TFA journey teaching in Memphis.
During Isabel’s first semester of teaching elementary mathematics at Power Center Academy, a fellow co-worker introduced her to the Memphis subsidiary of Girls on the Run.
Isabel’s positive experience with the program as a child was the impetus for becoming a coach herself
By the same token, Isabel’s passion for serving her community aligned with the principles of Girls on the Run; its values went hand in hand with the reasons she joined Teach for America.
3rd through 5th grade-aged girls enter a critical period of overcoming self-doubt and discovering themselves. While most schools offer health classes in curriculum, class discussions are typically centered on the physical changes young girls encounter.
“Girls on the Run successfully combines lessons of exercise and positive self-image, while also reinforcing the importance of respecting others,” Isabel said.
Each season, the program follows a set curriculum of physical and interactive activities.
Coaches lead group discussions and ask girls to consider questions like:
- “What does negative self-talk look like?”
- “How can I change that to positive self-talk?”
- “What’s something that frustrates me?”
- “How could I have better handled a situation?”
Another key feature of the curriculum is setting goals. Whether it’s in or out of school, when students push themselves to grow, they uncover a hidden potential and build their esteem.
“Fostering self-reflection in young girls allows them to gain a broader depth of understanding for the world around them, and celebrate what makes them unique,” Isabel said.
24-year-old Isabel is now approaching her third year and sixth season as a coach with Girls on the Run.
She recently reminisced on one of her most cherished memories, a 5k run she orchestrated for her group of 15 PCA girls amidst the pandemic.
“The girls came out decked and ready,” Isabel said. “We had one girl who was struggling to finish her 5K, and she still had 0.7 miles to go. All the girls were tired but ran back on the course and finished the 5K with her.”
She continued, “It would have been easy for them to say, ‘I’ve already finished my race.’”
Yet, her girls took the initiative to be a team player. Instances of benevolence like these assure her of the success of the program.
Establishing a strong support system is a fundamental lesson that girls learn over the season.
“One of the best ways to build confidence is to be around people who care for you; who love you, and who are supportive of you,” Isabel said.
Although Teach for America only asks for two years of public school instruction, working with kids has enlightened Isabel to continue serving as a teacher and a coach.
Coaching for Girls on the Run has not only been rewarding because of her students’ progress, but also because of her own. While its lessons are targeted toward youth, she believes the takeaways of the program are valuable at any age.
“Even as I go through these lessons, I’m able to reflect on my own emotional learning and how I can continue to grow,” Isabel said. “It’s given me a lot of new perspectives about who I am.”
Do you want to lead a team of girls to victory on and off the track?
Girls on the Run will conclude its spring season with a celebratory 5K race on May 1st, 2022 at the Overton Park Shell. Join Coach Isabel along with her team for a fun-filled day!