By Evan Gorr Contributing Writer
Catherine Dennis, 2017 UMF graduate and second year teacher at Cascade Brook School (CBS) in Farmington, co-coaches a reading and running program called Fit Girls, a community
based program for girls in grades fourth through sixth in the Mount Blue District.
Dennis is one of four coaches who helps inspire 45 kids participating in Fit Girls at CBS. The program aims to provide examples of healthy habits for the girls as they tackle the struggles of growing up in today’s society.
“Girls in the age group we work with are in an increasingly vulnerable position,” said Dennis. “They are exposed to so many stereotypes and false images portrayed by people on social media.” Body image, healthy eating, and positive relationships are important topics that coaches discuss with the girls during their meetings.
Deb Aseltine, the director of Fit Girls, believes that the program creates wonderful opportunities and strengthens the community. “There is an opportunity for the girls to express their individuality while creating healthier attitudes,” said Aseltine. “These healthier attitudes with the girls and their families fosters a healthy community.”
The coaches help the girls practice their healthy habits by meeting every Thursday to participate in physical activity and discuss different topics. “We always provide a healthy snack when we meet in the cafeteria,” said Dennis. “And we also read a short passage that provides a positive message or lesson that incorporates one of our goals.”
The second portion of each meeting includes a run outside. The coaches figured out a quarter mile loop around the perimeter of the school for everyone to run. Dennis, an avid runner, was proud of the girls for their efforts. “We worked our way up over six weeks to be able to run 35 minutes continuously,” said Dennis. “It got cold and even rained during the last couple of weeks, but the girls didn’t seem to mind.”
The meeting ends with happy thoughts and stretching inside. “Happy thoughts is an inspirational quote that we give the girls on a little card,” said Dennis.
Another large part of the program is providing the girls with role models who are not involved in their familial life. “I think girls this age are more likely to respond to role models that aren’t immediate family, so it is very important to me to be that role model,” said Dennis.
Sylvia Brooks, a 2016 UMF graduate and 3rd year teacher at CBS, sees the positive impact of Fit Girls regarding confidence and leadership in her classroom. “It gives the girls an opportunity to become leaders to younger participants,” said Brooks. “It also gives them the confidence to do something athletic without the social pressure of having boys around.”
In addition to encouraging healthy habits, Dennis believes that the program can play a role in strengthening her bonds with all those who participate. “I love spending time outside of the classroom with these kids,” said Dennis. “It allows us to build a stronger relationship and helps the girls become more comfortable with talking to me in school.”
Fit Girls recently hosted their end of season 5K race on October 20th. The course ran along Wilson Lake, and there were over 70 participants. “It was a great event,” said Dennis. “The superintendent was there and another runner dressed up as a snap pea.” Dennis ran with one of the participants at the end to cross the finish line together, showing just how joyous her experience with the program has been.
Fit Girls began seven years ago at Academy Hill School in Wilton, and has since expanded to include the whole district. The program runs for six weeks throughout the fall ending with a district wide 5K race.