(WOIO) - Middle school is a time when girls are starting to face tougher decisions and they need the tools to make healthy choices. That's where the "Girls On The Run" program comes in.
"The lesson topics address self esteem, standing up for yourself, having a healthy body image, gossip, bullying, being part of a community, giving back to the community; it really is an empowerment program, to help girls discover who they are," said Operations Director Monica Peritt.
A recent lesson at Cuyahoga Heights Middle School taught fifth graders how to deal with peer pressure and bullying.
Fifth graders learned a simple strategy to use when they feel pressured to do something; it's called the stop, breathe, listen, and respond method.
The girls were taught to first stop for a moment, then take five deep breaths, then listen to the voice inside them that tells them right from wrong, then respond to the person pressuring them.
"You just need to be confident and say to yourself, I know I can do this," said student Sydney Dyer.
The program creatively weaves in running and allows the girls to try out their new strategies.
"I just love coming to Girls On The Run because I get to run and hang out with my friends every day and it just helps my confidence come up and all my friends' confidence come up and it helps me through my life," said student Julia Harris.
Julia's father agrees; "It's teaching my daughter to be self-confident, because as she gets older, especially as a woman in this world they need to be self-confident to get through their life," said Steven Harris.
At the end of the program, all the girls do a non-timed 5K run.
For many, "it's the first time they've ever completed something like that and they feel like a rock star," said Peritt.