Five students from San Diego SOAR Academy's Girls Rehabilitation Facility (GRF) site ran in the Live Well San Diego 5K in July thanks to a partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE), Probation, and the San Diego Blood Bank.
The experience was especially powerful for the students because they have been incarcerated at GRF and it was an opportunity to participate in a positive event while interacting with the community.
"It made me feel free," one of the students said. "I felt like a regular kid, just being out in public looking at nature and running on the streets with thousands and thousands of new faces."
The students said they plan to continue running after they are released from the facility.
"That can help me to stay out of trouble and prevent me from getting locked up again in the future," the student said.
The participation in the race was part of a running club started six years ago at one of SDCOE's Momentum Learning schools. It has since grown to involve students at a handful of sites, including several schools for youth who are incarcerated.
"It was incredible, the feeling of accomplishment," another student said about running the 5K. "When I crossed that finish line, it was the greatest feeling. I've never been so proud of myself like that before."
The students in the running program train and run races with teachers, counselors, and probation officers.
Training together provides students with mentorship, guidance, positive experiences, and a self-esteem boost, organizers have said.
"I learned that I could set my mind on a goal and I could accomplish it," another student who participated said. "Running gave me a new way to cope with my problems in a positive way."