WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Fifth-grader Theo Halko doesn’t talk about his feelings that much, at least not with his friends.
Sure, he has his grandparents — who have raised him since he was three — and a therapist. But what do adults know about what it’s like to be a kid?
Plus, talking about your feelings is … icky. At least if you’re a boy.
And you’re only 10.
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“I feel for you, Theo,” Carrie Downie Elementary School Principal Douglass Timm said. “I think men, and I don’t know if it’s hereditary or biological, we just don’t talk about our feelings. It’s embarrassing.”
It shouldn’t be, insists Roselynn Burke, a teacher at Carrie Downie and coach of Let Me Run.
The boys-only after-school program counters the idea that males can’t express emotion unless it’s anger.
Let Me Run uses running as a means of breaking down the “destructive male stereotypes” that often stand in the way of positive futures for boys, according to the nonprofit’s website.
“It teaches you how to be courageous enough to be yourself,” Burke said. “There’s just a stigma around being a boy that you can’t cry or like the color pink.”
Theo isn’t afraid to admit his favorite color is pink. Or that he has trouble working in groups and with other students.
“Theo’s always right,” said his grandma, “MomMom” Marita Halko. “He doesn’t like letting anyone else have an opinion.”
Or at least, he didn’t. Since joining Let Me Run last fall, Theo’s been doing better in class and has been getting along better with his classmates.
Theo still thinks group work is “hard and boring,” but he does it. And when he isn’t in the mood, he tells his teacher, instead of acting out.
He was the first boy to sign up for a new season of Let Me Run this year, which kicks off Sept. 25.
Theo knows he likes the program and that it’s helping him do better in school, but has a hard time describing why.
“It’s actually a lot of fun,” he said. “That’s why I signed up again this year.”
He went on to describe the sensation of the wind pushing against his back as he runs and how exhausted he feels at the end of practice.
It’s when the boys get done running that Burke sits them down and talks to them about teamwork and friendship. Positive role models like Timm and assistant coach Roderick Henry chime in.
No one is forced to talk about their feelings, but often they do, Burke said. One exercise, on so-called “garbage thoughts” is about negative self-talk while others focus on healthy lifestyles. The boys also talk about how to be good friends and how to encourage and support each other.
In one exercise, the Got Your Back Relay, the boys literally have to lean on each other’s backs as they run.
“When you talk to the boys, it’s just running,” Burke said. “But it’s more than that.”
In fact, last year, boys on the team said Let Me Run taught them not to judge people and to control their anger, as well as how to encourage others and try to understand what other kids are going through.
The boys also learned how to set achievable goals and how to persevere and finish them without being overly competitive.
At the end of the seven-week season, they ran a 5K and when one Carrie Downie boy fell behind, the rest turned around and ran him through the end of the race.
“It’s really special,” Theo said about Let Me Run.
Join Let Me Run
Currently, there are three Let Me Run teams in the state of Delaware, at Carrie Downie Elementary, Castle Hills Elementary School and North Star Elementary.
Parents can register their sons for Let Me Run at http://www.letmerun.org/region/delaware/teams. The new season starts Sept. 25 and lasts seven weeks.
Fees are based on income-level, and financial aid may be available. Carrie Downie is currently accepting donations for scholarships at the school office.
To start a Let Me Run Team at your school, visit http://www.letmerun.org/region/delaware or contact Roselynn Burke.
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com