Girls Inc. program connects bodies and minds

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 140 views 

Female students at Kimmons Junior High School in Fort Smith have experienced a change of pace in physical education classes during the last eight weeks thanks to Girls Inc. of Fort Smith.

The organization brought the Body + Mind Initiative to Kimmons for eight weeks in order to teach females about positive body image, in addition to other areas important to personal health.

"It's to teach girls about positive body image, nutrition, we do some physical education and stress management," said Joyce Slack, marketing director and program specialist with Girls Inc.

According to Amanda Daniels, executive director of Girls Inc., 224 students participated in the program.

Daniels said it was important for the organization to bring this program to Kimmons and continue to reach students with a positive message as they transition into their teenage years.

"One of the reasons (to come to Kimmons) is generally the majority of our girls are elementary-age girls. We begin to lose girls when they get into junior high and so we definitely want to start to target that age group because we know at that age that's the time they have choices to make," Daniels said.

In order for students to make the right choices as they get older and gain more independence, Girls Inc. partnered with Kimmons to introduce the initiative.

Another reason for coming to Kimmons for the last eight weeks was to reach a larger amount of students, Daniels said, adding that the organization's facility would have been much too small to host such a large number of students.

By doing the program in a public school setting, Slack said students, parents and teachers were able to see what the organization was all about.

"The Mind + Body … it's kind of pieces of our other programs that they put together basically for outreach, so we could show people who don't necessarily go to Girls Inc. all the things that we offer," she said.

Physical education instructor Donna Jo East said the program had been beneficial for her students.

"It's a program that helps the girls, gives them tools and resources to better develop their physical, mental and emotional health," she said.

East said having one of the topics in the program focus on stress management was important for students, who many times suffer stress in silence. She said the stress can often be brought on by bullying or other internal struggles students may face, such as low self esteem.

"They did an activity with them and tried to show them that they don't have to be perfect. That what they see in magazines isn't the way it really is," East said.

Slack said Mind + Body was also designed to address extremely delicate issues with students.

"We touch base on sensitive matters such as the effects of eating disorders, self-mutilation, teen (girls) struggling with the decisions of plastic surgery, and treating our bodies right through nutrition, abstinence, physical health and proper hygiene."

The information presented to students is not just out of a program manual, Slack said, but also from personal experience.

"I wanted to mention that I feel that this program is important personally for me because in junior high school I felt that I went throw similar insecurities pertaining to body image, self-esteem and worrying about my weight," she said.

Officials at the school said Slack and Girls Inc. have provided students with an information they'll be able to take with them for many years to come. It is a partnership Kimmons assistant principal Keri Rathbun hoped will continue.

"It's been great partnering with them and having them be role models for our girls," Rathbun said.

Daniels said she hoped to bring the program back to Kimmons next year, as well as partnering with other Fort Smith schools. Slack said the program, which concluded Friday (March 8), was more than a great experience for the students of Kimmons.

"Myself and the three women, Danielle Huggins, Britny Southbandith, and Marie Robison, who have worked this eight week program at Kimmons, will truly miss walking the hallways in the morning before classes and hearing our names called over the sea of faces and seeing the friendly hands waving enthusiastically as we recognize each as our outreach girls."