DES MOINES, Iowa -- The program is called Girls On The Run. But before the girls lace up their running shoes, they put on their thinking caps during what's called "Circle Time." It's a time for girls to talk about their feelings and develop skills that will help them navigate life as a young woman.
"We always start our time with, 'How’s it going at home? How’s it going with family and friends? What’s going on at school?'," says Kaitlin Clough, a first grade teacher at Samuelson Elementary and an Assistant Coach for Girls On The Run.
"To me it’s not about the exercise. It’s what we do prior to the workout."
Hifaa Adam, a fifth grader at Samuelson, agrees.
"We say something that happened to our family and we say our highs and lows and what happened during the week."
Adam says the program has made her more confident, in part because it focuses not on how the girls look, but what's inside.
The program has been in central Iowa schools for about nine years. It's now thriving in more than two dozen schools. Christa Vander Leest is one of the program coordinators with the Greater Des Moines YMCA.
She says there are three components to Girls On The Run - self growth, connectedness, and contributing to the community.
Eelena Smith enjoys running, but she say the program has also taught her teamwork.
"They've taught me to keep going and help each other and be kind."
That means a lot to Melissa Noel, whose own daughter is in the program.
"Girls have a lot of pressure," says Noel. "And it's given her a sense of pride and it's an activity to do after school that's also a healthy activity."
An activity that's making girls healthier from the inside out.