by HANNAH BROADBENT
On a rainy Thursday morning, a group of 35 girls rush in from the soggy outside. Their sweat is mixed with rain, but they couldn’t be happier. The girls are in the community education program, More Than Pink and they just ran a mile.
“We’re going to run in the rain and in the heat, so it’s important to stay hydrated,” said the More Than Pink advisor in Watertown, Janine Knutson.
More Than Pink (MTP) is a program to inspire girls in 3rd through 6th grade to stay true to themselves and live free from social stereotypes, as stated in the community education class description book.
The group meets twice a week. The first 50 minutes is a fitness activity, the last 50 minutes is a learning opportunity. The topics are puberty, communication, budgeting, nutrition, cyber safety, divorce and gossip – to name a few. The end goal is that all the MTP groups will run a 5k in August.
The 5k is a fundraiser for the program. Parents and community members are welcome to join.
MTP originated in Waconia. Tiffany Nelson, the Community Education Director for Waconia Public Schools had been introduced to similar programs by a coworker seven years ago. She said those programs were too expensive to buy into and bring here, so she and her co-worker trademarked and copyrighted MTP.
“The goal is to empower them and let them know they can do more than they think they can,” Nelson said. “We want to give them tools to know how to handle things.”
Nelson said, when she is thinking of new subjects and curriculum, she is thinking of things she wished she knew at their age. She said one of the biggest aspects she focuses on is communication and nutrition.
The way the program is set up according to Nelson is that the third and fourth graders stay together, they will go over a topic while the fifth and sixth graders are running and then the groups switch. Nelson said splitting the ages makes them feel more comfortable and those groups can more easily relate to each other.
Knutson and Nelson said that another very important aspect of what they do is volunteer work.
“It gives that feeling of being able to serve your community,” Knutson said. “Without community service and volunteers we have no community.”
Nelson sometimes has girls volunteer to clean the schools and clean up trash around Waconia. Knutson makes sure to have her girls volunteer every year around Lake Waconia and at Freedom Farm. She said it also helps them learn how to work together and trust each other.
“We talk a lot about team integrity,” Knutson said.
Knutson said everything they do translates into teamwork. She said everyone can remember what it’s like growing up and the feeling of not being fast enough and being at the end of the pack. She said for MTP, it’s about looking out for one another and doing these activities together.
Nelson said there is an underlining message though of reaching your goal and pacing yourself.
“It’s about learning things and actually being able to reach your goal,” Nelson said.
Knutson said that is an imperative lesson to learn. She said goal-setting, kindness and a healthy lifestyle are tools for these girls as they grow up.
“It starts at a younger age, where you start to compare yourself,” she said. “We want to prepare them with honor so they can deflect those things.”
Maggie McCabe is going into sixth grade at Watertown Mayer and has been in MTP for three years now. She said she joined because she loved to run and knew MTP offered many other activities, her favorites are log rolling and slack lining. McCabe said she is aware of how much she has learned.
“I like talking to everyone and learning,” she said. “[MTP] has taught me how to include everyone and be nice.”
Jane Hagel is going into seventh grade this year and has been in MTP for four years, she joined because she loves running. Hagel said MTP teaches girls what to do and what not to do.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re your best friend, everyone should be included,” she said.
Fifth Grader Eleanor Rundell is on the same page as Hagel and McCabe, and it’s her first year in the program. She said she joined cause all her friends were in it and she loves running. She said so far, it is better than she imagined.
“I get the chance to be active, and to be nice to everyone,” she said. “It makes me feel good because I know what to do if someone is being bullied and I can stand up for them.”
The Watertown class is at it’s capacity with students. Knutson said for the first time, they have kids from Mound and Rockford. She said she wants to see students to continue to come back because that means they are doing something right. Watertown MTP meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Waconia is full as well with two sections and 100 girls. Nelson said her goal is to keep being successful and to get girls off the waitlist. MTP is now in 10 cities in Minnesota including Brainerd, Austin, Minnetonka and Centennial. Waconia meets Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.