Clintonville resident Amie Kennedy has been amazed by the transformation in her two daughters since they joined a new after-school program for girls.
The program, called "You Grow Girl!" was launched at Clintonville Middle School recently with the goal of promoting girls' self-respect, growing their self-esteem, and teaching them skills to pursue healthy lifestyles. The program is also aimed at heading off risky and problem behaviors, including drinking, drug use, and bullying, for example.
"It's an amazing program," says Kennedy, whose 12- and 13-year old girls joined You Grow Girl! in September. "My oldest daughter has been on an emotional high. She came home from school recently and announced, 'Today was the best day and I can't wait to go to school tomorrow.' I'd never heard those words come out of her mouth before."
In addition to excited parents, the program is also being supported by donations from local businesses and the Wolf River Area Healthcare Foundation. The foundation, serving as a lead sponsor, recently granted $1,500 to the new program.
"We are proud to support this wonderful program to help it get off to a strong start," said foundation board member Nancy Ignacio. "We applaud the women in our community who have brought this program to life to make a difference in the lives of girls."
Clintonville resident Lynette Edwards, who created and organized the program, said she borrowed from the national "Girls on the Run" program, a non-profit prevention program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running.
Considering the disheartening data about Clintonville Middle School students, Edwards said the program is badly needed. According to the 2007 Youth Behavior Risk Survey, 35 percent of Clintonville Middle School students have ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol; 39.2 percent have been repeatedly harassed, picked on, or bullied at school; and 22 percent of Clintonville students reported that someone tried to hurt them by hitting, punching or kicking them while at school.
"It is clear that our young women need a safe and convenient place to allow them to reach their full potential and learn healthy habits and lifestyles," Edwards said. "You Grow Girl! is a program that celebrates every girl's individuality, strengths and beauty."
With a few months under their belt, Edwards feels the program is well on its way to achieving its goals.
"We meet twice a week after school and discuss issues facing girls, including body image, values, peer pressure, and other topics," said Edwards, whose 13-year old daughter is among the dozen girls in the group. "We provide an intimate, safe environment for sharing."
Each 1 ½- hour meeting includes active classroom lessons designed to encourage positive emotional, social, and physical development. The latter half of each meeting is dedicated to physical fitness.
"We don't require the girls run, but we get them moving whether they walk, hop, skip or jump," said Edwards. "Physical activity and getting your blood flowing automatically makes you feel good."
In addition to Edwards, Clintonville residents Linda Gehrke and Jody Peterson are serving as the program's volunteer coaches. Chris Van Hoof, Clintonville School District's director of instruction, meanwhile, has helped the team write the program's curriculum.
The 10-week pilot program will culminate next month with a trip to Madison, where the girls and the coaches will participate in a 5K run sponsored by the Dane County Girls on the Run.
You Grow Girl! will continue next semester and the group is planning a 5K community race next spring in Clintonville. Looking further ahead, Edwards said they plan to become an official affiliate of Girls on the Run, which would allow them to expand to other school sites in Waupaca County. They are currently raising funds toward that goal.
"I'm so proud of this program, and I'm proud of my girls," added Kennedy. "The women in this program are strong, amazing women who are impeccable role models.
"They reiterate what we parents are already saying, but when our kids hear it from another unbiased adult, they think 'maybe there is something to this."
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