EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Being a kid isn’t always easy in today’s world, but a national non-profit organization is helping middle school girls navigate life with its unique program.

From bullying to peer pressure to low self-esteem to navigating social media, today’s kids have many difficult issues to face, but a non-profit organization is helping to keep girls on the right track.

The national program is offered at a local middle school and administered by volunteers. It combines hands-on, life lessons with physical activity, all in an effort to inspire girls to be joyful, confident, and healthy.

This group of middle school girls at Abington Heights Middle School meets after school, once a week for a positive youth development course known as ‘Girls on the Run’.

“We focus on teaching them how to have a healthy balanced lifestyle, one of the main focuses is goal setting,” said Gretchen Henderson program director for Girls on the Run.

Girls on the Run operates three programs; Girls on the Run for third to fifth graders, Heart and Sole for sixth to eighth graders, and Camp Girls on the Run for rising third graders.

The programs aim to teach social and emotional skills, and behaviors to help girls successfully navigate life’s experiences. the main focus of the curriculum is the girl wheel.

“Our main focus with the girl wheel is heart, brain, body and spirit, and social. Each week we focus on a different lesson. One lesson we’re focusing on today is using your agency and power when it’s influencing you to help make choices,” explained Henderson.

The life lessons are not only structured and dynamic but also use physical activity to drive the message.

“The theory is if you incorporate exercise in lessons you’re teaching your brain to process it in a different way,” added Henderson.

What these girls are also processing is how to explore new ideas, cultivate empathy, strengthen connections, and develop life skills that will help guide them through adolescence and beyond. The course addresses bullying, peer pressure, low self-esteem, and body image.

“I love how it brings all of us girls together and creates a safe way to express womanhood for all these girls and just how to be a girl as a whole,” says Sarah Heine a sixth grader at Abington Heights Middle School.

For 12-year-old Margot Rubner, this class has not only helped boost her self-confidence but also taught her how to remain positive despite the onslaught of unrealistic beauty images that flood her social media feeds.

“We talk about how some people online can be negative and harm your spirits so running and talking to friends and other people about it and getting help can boost your positive energy,” said Rubner.

This ten-week program culminates on November 18 with a 5k at Keystone College. That’s when the girls will take all of the tools and strategies they’ve learned and apply them to the race.

From the race track to the right track, the run celebrates their accomplishments.

In addition to giving the coaches a research-based curriculum, ‘Girls on the Run’ also provides parents with a guide on how to help their daughters navigate life’s experiences.

Girls on the Run started in Lackawanna County in 2015 with 14 girls and has grown to more than 130 girls taking part at eight different sites in northeastern Pennsylvania. To date, 800 middle school girls in our area have participated.

In 2017, Girls on the Run was named Most Influential in Health and Wellness by the National Afterschool Association.