MARQUETTE - Fifth-grade girls in the Gwinn school system are learning about more than math, science and writing these days.
The roughly 25 students participating in elementary school teacher Connie Sather's "Girls on the Move" program are also learning how to be more self-confident and live healthier lives.
The program's pretty simple on its face. Once a month, the students meet somewhere for a lesson on a specified topic followed by an activity. But what Sather has done is take that simple plan and include a number of tough topics for the girls to talk about, including women in the media and the dangers of drug use.
Northern Michigan University student lifeguard Angela Ilenich, a senior international studies major, teaches Gwinn Area Community Schools fifth grade girls how to help a struggling swimmer using a water noodle. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Gwinn fifth-grader Sage Gelmi flashes a smile as she gets ready to cross country ski. Gelmi is one of roughly 25 fifth grade girls participating in elementary school teacher Connie Sather’s Girls on the Move program, which aims to promote self-confidence and healthy behavior. (Photo courtesy of Connie Sather)
By having these types of lessons, followed by an hour or two of activities, the program aims to foster a sense of self-confidence in the girls.
"It's designed to promote healthy self-esteem, a healthy self-concept and to build confidence in girls," Sather said. "I also wanted to expose them to some lifetime sport activities they would be encountering outside of school."
Those activities include yoga, Zoomba, kayaking, cross country skiing and plenty more.
This month's activity was swimming, with the students bused over to Northern Michigan University's Physical Educational Instructional Activity for a dip in the pool.
Once there, the girls were instructed on several safe swimming habits by NMU student lifeguards and also discussed healthy personal habits.
"We do a lot of fun things," said Gwinn fifth-grader Makayla Dionne of the program.
Tia Nordeen said she enjoys all the activities.
"I like being in 'Girls on the Move' because you get to have fun while you exercise," she said just before heading over to the dive tank for a lesson in how to help a struggling swimmer.
Adonya Williams said she enjoys the activities too and especially likes being able to spend time with her fellow fifth-graders, getting to know them better.
Sather said that's also one of the main goals of the program - bringing students together who may not typically socialize with each other.
"I've seen girls from last year's program at basketball games hanging out with kids they may not have otherwise, but they got to see another side of that person through 'Girls on the Move,'" Sather said.
That also includes students who had originally attended the now-closed Gilbert Elementary School and students original to K.I. Sawyer Elementary, where all the district's elementary school students now attend.
"This year, having the schools combined, that has been really nice for that because they're all together, they're all doing this together and it's helping them blend together as a school," Sather said.
The program is run through donations from the local community. It also saw some help this year from a $1,000 Great Lakes Center for Youth Development Excellence in Education grant.
"It's a huge community-supported event that couldn't happen if I didn't have as much support as I do," Sather said. "The community loves to be involved in school and I had well over 40 community members involved last year, either by donating or spending time with us, helping out, teaching a class."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.