Two teachers at Woodland Middle School started a new after-school club for girls to talk about the issues they face in middle school and to get some exercise along the way called “Girl Talk and Tennies.”
Kelly Beasley, Woodland Middle School’s physical education teacher, and Pamela Dietrich, a social studies teacher and coach, came up with the idea for the club when the leadership team reviewed the school’s schedule. “There were no afterschool clubs or athletics for girls during this time of year,” explained Beasley. “We wanted to create a club for all of girls, not just athletes, which promotes self-confidence and also provides some physical exercise.”
The teachers came up with the name of the club to describe exactly what it would do – offer girls an opportunity to talk about issues they face in middle school and provide a reason to put on tennis shoes, “tennies,” to get some exercise. “We wanted an active club that would be wonderful for kiddos who wouldn’t try out for a sport because it was too intimidating,” said Dietrich. “We also made it a free club that anyone could join so money wouldn’t be an issue.”
Dietrich and Beasley got the word out about the club during the daily announcements, inviting any interested girl to attend. The club meets once a week after school where any girl from fifth to eighth grade meets in a classroom for a quick snack, some group conversation, a lesson taught by the teachers, and some exercise.
One student selects a topic at random from a “Chat Box” with topics including how to get picked when you have the answer during class, how to handle bullies, how to include others, how to deal with rejection, and much more. Girls take turns talking about the day’s topic, sharing stories of their own experiences and offering advice to other girls.
Both teachers try to provide minimal direction during “Chat Box” time, letting the students share their own insights and perspectives. In some cases, the teachers chime in to ask the students for tips for a club member who might be having problems and to give advice to the students from their own life experiences.
After “Chat Box” time, Beasley and Dietrich guide the students through a variety of lessons prepared for the club including positive self-talk and how to manage time to get schoolwork done. The teachers guide the club through the different concepts of the lesson, asking questions from the group along the way.
Following the lesson, the girls take part in a variety of exercises such as jogging and aerobics stations in the gym. In small groups, students move from station to station engaging in different types of aerobics such as dancing, jumping rope, stretching, and performing gymnastics. Every few minutes, one of the teachers blows a whistle signaling the girls to switch to a different station. The teachers knew that providing opportunities for exercise needed to be a priority for the club. “The exercise element was always going to be a big part of it,” explained Beasley. “Kids today need to get as much exercise as possible.”
The club has been a huge success with more than 50 girls from fifth to eighth grade taking part. “The kids who are participating are exactly who we wanted – students who aren’t in athletics and wanted to join a club,” said Beasley. “The girls in the club can’t wait for Thursday to come; they arrive smiling and leave even happier.”
Students join the club to make friends and have fun. “I wanted to be able to talk with my girlfriends more and exercise more,” said Alexis Caughell, a sixth grader. “I like the talking time the most where we talk about stuff going on in our lives and it helps me out.”
Some students wanted to find a club where they would fit in. “I was the only girl who played basketball on boys teams, and I wanted to find a club where there would be more girls,” said Lily Wear, a fifth grader. “I like how we talk, share our feelings, but also do something fun and active.”
Grace Reister, a fifth grader, joined for the teachers running the club, “My favorite teacher is Mrs. Beasley because she’s a really active person,” she said. “I knew the club would be fun and help me be active.”
Parents of the students rave about the club as well. “The feedback from parents has been overwhelmingly positive with many offering to provide support wherever they can,” said Beasley. “Parents are almost begging to help out which is just outstanding.”
Both teachers have a great time running the club, too. “I leave every day thinking about what a great time I had with the girls,” said Beasley. “The club provides a much-needed positive place for teenage girls since middle school can be really tough for girls.”