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Junaluska Elementary works to empower male students

Carter Hollifield, (front row from left) Mason Rathbone, Trent Decker, Brooks Barbee, Henry Blackburn, August Menck, Tanner Justice, Dylan Douville, Levi Jackson, Aiden Harris, Jacob Davis, (second row from left) Katy Robinson (teacher), Lisa Ourada (running buddy), Connor Willis (running buddy), Cameron Nixon (teacher), Becca Brown (teacher), Alex Masciarelli (principal). Runners not pictured: Gavin Chouinard, Chase Perkins, Alexander Wenzel. Carter Hollifield, (front row from left) Mason Rathbone, Trent Decker, Brooks Barbee, Henry Blackburn, August Menck, Tanner Justice, Dylan Douville, Levi Jackson, Aiden Harris, Jacob Davis, (second row from left) Katy Robinson (teacher), Lisa Ourada (running buddy), Connor Willis (running buddy), Cameron Nixon (teacher), Becca Brown (teacher), Alex Masciarelli (principal). Runners not pictured: Gavin Chouinard, Chase Perkins, Alexander Wenzel.

Female empowerment is all the rage right now. From school-age programs like Girls on the Run to the #MeToo movement, the advocacy for equal rights and fem-respect is paramount. As a woman, I’m happy to see our gender being supported and heard. 

But as the mom of two boys, I’m intentionally and delicately raising my children to be the best, most honorable men they can be. We have to be careful not to inadvertently demean boys and men under the guise of building up women. 

In fact, I think our society’s choices when it comes to raising boys are equally as important as those involving girls. While we want future women to feel emboldened, we also want them to have confident partners who stand beside them in supportive and reverent ways. 

My boys attend Junaluska Elementary School and over the past several years, I’ve watched their female friends participate in a program called Girls on the Run. It’s a well-established fitness program with the following mission: “We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”

My 10-year-old son enjoys running and has participated in a number of competitive races, including a youth triathlon. He’d make comments about how cool it would be if there was a running club for boys. You can imagine his excitement when we received paperwork this year about a new program at his school called Let Me Run. 

Let Me Run is a Charlotte-based nonprofit with a mission to inspire boys to be themselves, be active and to belong. The curriculum encourages boys to develop their psychological, emotional and social health, along with their physical health. At the end of the season, the team runs a 5K race together. 

This program was sponsored and excellently managed by two young Junaluska teachers, Becca Brown and Cameron Nixon. Every Tuesday and Thursday when I picked up my son, Ms. Brown and Mr. Nixon were all smiles. Their positive attitude and commitment to the program were the backbones of Let Me Run. Despite being worn out and drenched with sweat, not once did my child say he didn’t want to attend the next practice. 

Coach Brown said, “We had such a sweet group of kids this year. I’m really glad they were able to be part of our very first Let Me Run team. The boys grew so much and it was amazing to see their hard work pay off at the 5K.” 

According to a 2016 study by the Institute to Promote Athlete Health & Wellness of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Let Me Run program significantly improves boys’ attitudes and behaviors associated with healthy masculinity, increases vigorous physical activity levels, improves social competence and reduces screen time on school days. The two-season evaluation also demonstrated abilities to better express emotion, show affection, build friendships and connect with others. 

Along with Let Me Run, Junaluska holds a Band of Brothers night organized and facilitated by school counselor Joy Sollie. This event focuses on the importance of brotherhood and sticking together. Some of the sessions include team building, commitment, sportsmanship and anger management. 

Junaluska Elementary was the only school in Haywood County to implement the Let Me Run program in 2019, but other schools will hopefully follow suit in coming years. As a mom, it makes me happy to see their school implement an array of programs to empower all students. Both the children and adults appear to grow and learn throughout these experiences. 

“Let Me Run was far more rewarding than I ever thought it could be,” said Coach Nixon. “Several of the boys latched onto the idea that pushing yourself and giving your best is an awesome way to live. I even saw this carry over into the classroom. For me, the program was an incredibly wholesome and humbling experience.”

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