Three Springfield-area schools will be the launch sites for a new fitness and running program designed for third, fourth and fifth grade boys. Springfield YMCA STRIDE (which stands for Success + Teamwork + Respect + Inspiration + Determination = Excellence in Character) will launch in Feitshans Elementary School, Blessed Sacrament School and Farmingdale Elementary School beginning in March 2022. Andy Smith, director of Springfield STRIDE, hopes to use the program to offer boys in our community more opportunities for growth.
STRIDE is a national program that was originally developed in 2009 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. STRIDE was envisioned as a counterpart to the successful and widely known national Girls on the Run (GOTR) program. The ultimate aim of STRIDE is character education for pre-teen boys, but with a special focus on fun and fitness. Program participants will focus on an engaging curriculum, as well as on increasing their progressive running stamina.
Andy Smith originally intended to bring STRIDE to Springfield in 2019, noting a need for "boys to engage with one another and have this type of character programming available." However, plans to commence STRIDE were postponed by the pandemic shutdown, resulting in an even stronger need for comprehensive and engaging after-school programming for youth in Springfield. Smith posits that boys in our community need this important work on socialization and development now more than ever before.
In accordance with these needs, the STRIDE curriculum is centered around issues that boys may face in school, sports, community or at home, such as being a good friend and teammate, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, being cybersafe or understanding complex emotions. One particular component of the curriculum that stood out to Smith is entitled 'Making a Difference in Action.' During this week, the boys of each STRIDE site will brainstorm and plan a community service project that they can all participate in together as a team. The boys will then actually complete their service project and have an opportunity to reflect on what serving their community meant to them.
In addition to engaging with the character-building curriculum, participants will jog and run during practice. Rather than compete against one another, the boys will learn to work with, understand and encourage each other's running progress. At the completion of the season, teams will participate in a 5K run with a STRIDEr (an adult who has committed to run the 5K with him) in a celebration designed to boost confidence and rally around achieving his own personal best.
The Central Illinois chapter of Girls on the Run has successfully organized an annual 5K run for their participants since 2004, and have invited STRIDE Springfield to run alongside them in a joint running event. Smith is grateful for this new partnership and is "excited to see how Girls on the Run and STRIDE will complement one another here in Springfield."
Says Smith, STRIDE is for "any boy who is interested. I want it to be an equal opportunity program for boys from all walks of life." Participants do not have to be runners, just willing to participate in the lessons and try their best. Through doing so, program participants will be given the opportunity to really see their hard work result in success and feel a growing sense of confidence and pride.
If you have an interest in becoming a STRIDE site or coach, please reach out to director Andy Smith at email@example.com.
Pamela Savage is a freelance writer in Springfield. She looks forward to enrolling her sons in STRIDE when they are eligible.