It’s Thursday after school at P.S. 130K in Brooklyn, and while the energy levels of most adults are depleted by now, a group of 15 girls from 3rd to 5th grade are just warming up with a vigorous round of Would You Rather. 

“Would you rather only be able to whisper, or only be able to shout?” Girls on the Run NYC Coach Theresa Bulman asks the kids.

The girls learn life skills, and develop appreciation for fitness. Photo: Girls on the Run NYC

“Shout, shout!” half the girls shout, running to the left, while a quieter group runs to the right, and the undecided do jumping jacks in the center.

The exercise is just the beginning of a 75-minute session packed with physical activities and thought-provoking exercises to grow girls’ social and emotional awareness.

It’s part of the 10-week youth development program Girls on the Run NYC, which started its spring season in New York last week.

Bulman has been working with the program for more than 20 seasons.

“I generally see a lot of the girls come in shy and leave with a lot of confidence, and make a lot of longterm friends. Getting silly with them is the best icebreaker,” she said.

The girls spend the first eight weeks in fitness and life skills lessons, then the last two weeks are dedicated to a community impact project designed by the kids themselves.

“In the past, the girls have created projects for animal shelters, and picked up litter (safely),” Girls on the Run NYC Executive Director Allison Hauser said. “Teams in Brooklyn have written letters to fellow kids who are in hospital, or to senior centers to say, ‘We’re thinking of you.'”

The program is designed specifically to help adolescent girls build confidence at a critical juncture in their lives, while also building the fitness to do a 5km celebratory running event. 

While the girls do participate in physical activity, the program is just as much about building social and life skills, and making friends. 

At P.S. 130K, after starting out with a name-game and Would You Rather, the session soon becomes a little more cerebral, and more physical, too.

If a friend is angry, is it an easy or a hard decision to react calmly to them?, Bulman asks the girls.

Girls indicate their choice by the direction they decide to run around the court. By the end, sweaters have been discarded and cheeks are pink.

The session ends as the girls go back to their workbooks to talk about what they learned, reflecting on some of those social behaviors that are more difficult, like listening when someone is upset.

“The [games] are a way for them to realize we are making decisions all the time, and it’s about thinking for themselves and being independent,” Bulman said.

In Brooklyn, there are at least 12 sites running the program this season, with locations including Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Brownsville, Cypress Hills, Prospect Heights and Park Slope.

The program costs $0-350 per girl per season, on a sliding scale, however Hauser said 83% of applicants received financial aid in fall 2021.

“We ensure that all students who want to participate can,” Hauser said.

The program is run by volunteers, and on the donations of generous partners and friends who fundraise while doing runs like the Brooklyn Half Marathon.

To sign up for an upcoming season, click here.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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