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Building relationships one lap at a time

By day, Jarryll Byrd runs the media center as the media coordinator at Hickory Grove Elementary. But after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Byrd trades in the books and hits the track with her school’s Girls on the Run group.

For 30-40 minutes, they skip, run, and walk around the track, encouraging each other to meet their lap goals as they prepare for the 5K race at the end of the season.

“It’s really a time for them to connect with other girls from other grades that they wouldn’t have ever met before,” said Byrd. “They share their ideas, feel heard and find other people who are going through the same things as them.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools celebrates its volunteers annually in April for Volunteer Appreciation Month. Girls on the Run is one of the district’s partner organizations that inspires girls of all abilities to recognize their individual strengths while building a sense of connection in a team setting. 

According to the organization’s website, volunteer coaches — the majority of whom are district employees — combine physical activity with life skill development lessons that enable girls to adapt to whatever comes their way.

“Ms. Byrd is truly an asset to our school and a shining example of what it means to love what you do,” said Matthew Bower, principal at Hickory Grove. “In addition to working in our media center, Ms. Byrd leads several after-school initiatives, including Book Club, Chess Club and Girls on the Run. These programs provide opportunities for our students to demonstrate leadership and engage in activities that develop lifelong skills.The Girls on the Run program is a great example of this as our children are learning to recognize their individual strengths and work together within the constructs of a team setting,” he said. “These partnerships are leading to more equitable access to resources available in and around our school community. We are grateful for her leadership and inspired by her drive to find new ways to make learning interesting, fun and relevant.”

Byrd is in her third year as the Girls on the Run coach at Hickory Grove. She first got involved while at Charles H. Parker Academic Center and continued to coach their team after the move to Hickory Grove. 

Her commute between schools piqued the interest of the Hickory Grove girls who peppered her with questions about her whereabouts.

“I felt like I was connecting with kids across town, but I wanted to connect with the kids at my own school and be able to give them the same experience that I’m going across town to do,” said Byrd.

Byrd is working with her largest group ever — 32 students — and has had to split them into two teams. In addition to running and walking on the track, they complete team building activities, talk about managing emotions and how to be a good friend.

Part of the program’s curriculum is to work on a community project. Byrd challenged her students to think about what impacts other girls at their school on a day-to-day basis. For this year’s project, the group is collecting menstrual pads to distribute to students in need. 

Girls on the Run isn’t just another thing for Byrd to do after school. She has found that volunteering has allowed her to build deeper connections and relationships with her students. It’s an experience she wishes she had growing up.

“I would encourage anybody with extra time to donate it,” said Byrd. “The more of yourself that you give to those experiences, you will yield fruit … get results. I tell my group all the time, ‘I can’t come to your house, I can’t change your environment at home, I can’t change your routines, but what I can do is give you skills and the knowledge to help you manage what you have going on.’ And I share my experiences, too.”

Information about Girls on the Run can be found at