South LA charter school gets first all-girls running group

Listen to the full audio story
Show Embed Code | Download the MP3

(Girls on the Run group at KIPP/Brianna Sacks)
(Girls on the Run group at KIPP/Brianna Sacks)

Twice a week, fifteen pairs of shoes now lap around the blocks of South L.A.'s 99th and Vermont street as part of a new running club for fifth grade girls at the charter school KIPP Academy of Opportunity.

Known as Girls on the Run, the club teaches young girls from the area running skills, but more importantly, it serves as a support group and safe space to discuss body image, self esteem, nutrition and the gift of movement.

The nonprofit group focuses on youth development for girls in 3rd-8th grade.

Cristina Lowry, the dean at KIPP and one of the coaches for Girls on the Run, says the group provides a safe space for her students to get their energy out and talk about the challenges of growing up and heading into pre-teen years.

"Growing up is really hard, especially at this age, and we wanted a positive space to help them talk about what they are going through and try to eliminate some of the bad feelings they have about themselves," said Lowry.

Most of the group's 15 girls have never run before. Many do not own running clothes. Quite a few have asthma, a product of South L.A.'s poor air quality, cheap housing developments and the paint used in the homes they live in.

"All of this is brand new to them," said Lowry.

Lowry was very hesitant to bring the group to her school because of the mounting number of challenges, like where would the girls be able to run? The school does not have a track or field and transportation to a nearby park or track would be too expensive.

So the girls run back and forth on blocks in front of the school about 12-15 times. Last week they "graduated" to running around the block about three times, as long as they stuck with a coach and a group.

"I didn't know how we were going to make it work," said Lowry. "It's going to get dark in the winter, we didn't really have a place to run, but then ultimately I couldn't make excuses and we had to make it work for the girls because they need it more than anyone."