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Davis Journal

Girls on the Run at Odyssey helps build girls’ confidence

Apr 08, 2022 12:55PM ● By Hannah Sandorf Davis

Since the early 2000s nonprofits have been trying to combat a little-discussed issue – the confidence gap for girls. Research by social scientists revealed that girls start to lose some of their self-confidence as young as 8 years old, leading to teen girls who feel less confident or self-assured than their male counterparts. One organization that is working to help girls build confidence is Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that partners with community groups to provide training on positive life skills for elementary girls and middle school girls. One of those teams is hosted by Jessica Petersen, an Early Childhood Special Educator at Odyssey Elementary School.

Petersen became involved in Girls on the Run when Odyssey Elementary School opened in 2014. The Physical Education (P.E.) teacher at the time worked with Girls on the Run at a previous school and immediately began creating a team at Odyssey. Petersen signed up to be the assistant coach and, when the P.E. teacher left, became head coach. “It is all volunteer-based, with volunteers working on a personal level,” she said. “It’s not sponsored by the school, but some coaches work at schools and introduce students to the program.” 

Coaches serve as mentors and guides for the girls. For 8-week sessions in the fall and spring, the team gathers together to engage with different lessons. Girls on the Run states that team members gain connections to each other and positive role models in their community through this coaching model.

Girls on the Run has two different programs, one that focuses on girls in the third through sixth grades and another program, called Heart and Soul, that focuses on middle-school-aged girls. “The lessons help girls gain confidence, navigate healthy relationships, and build a healthy mindset and body image,” said Petersen.

Petersen’s favorite lesson is about finding balance. The lesson talks about how to connect with friends and practice good social skills. It also talks about balancing in-person and social media interactions to help girls be successful in both.

Balance is an important part of the Girls on the Run program, including balancing physical and mental health. The multi-week program culminates in a community 5K celebration where Girls on the Run teams in a geographic area run together. For Utah, the 5K is typically two laps around Sugar House Park. “Last year because of COVID we had a 5K with a community neighborhood group at Ponds Park in Kaysville,” said Petersen. “We are excited to gather again with teams across the state.”

Petersen encourages any community members who are interested in the program to volunteer or help their students get involved. “No girl has ever been turned away,” she said. “The registration fee can be covered by scholarship funding for those in need. It’s a very inclusive program.” For coaches, Girls on the Run provides resources on how to get involved in your local team or begin a new one at 

“I would love to see more girls in Davis County get involved in this program,” said Petersen. “It’s so beneficial. I can see the girls on my team feel more confident and self-assured during their participation.” l