FUELKinesiology graduate student Sara Santarossa, right, leads a group of high school girls through a high intensity cardio workout at Assumption high school last week.

High school girls get FUELed up through partnership program

Hundreds of high school girls across Windsor-Essex are discovering they can make a lifelong commitment to staying healthy by being physically active even if they don’t play sports.

“A lot of these girls don’t realize how capable they really are, so when they find out what they can do, that’s very motivating for them,” said Jenn Stefanczyk, a fourth-year kinesiology student who volunteers with the Females Using Energy for Life (FUEL) program.

A partnership between the University’s human kinetics faculty, the Windsor Essex County Health Unit and both local school boards, FUEL sees kinesiology students and public health nurses visit area high schools to encourage girls to participate in non-competitive physical activity like yoga, Pilates, dance and circuit training.

The team makes weekly visits for four weeks to each of the eight area schools that participate, focusing on a particular activity each week. Besides the physical component, a public health nurse is on site to give the girls nutrition tips.

Last Friday the team was at Assumption College High School, where dozens of girls packed into the gymnasium for a high intensity cardio workout under the direction of graduate student Sara Santarossa. Grade 9 student Sabrina Isabella said she left the session feeling motivated.

“It really made me determined to be more active,” she said.

That’s music to the ears of Carolie Walters, a public health nurse in the health unit’s comprehensive school health team who coordinates the program with human kinetics professor Sarah Woodruff.

“The hope is that they will sustain it,” said Walters, citing previous research which shows only seven per cent of Canadian youth get the recommended 60 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least six days a week, and that girls are significantly less active than their male counterparts. “We just hope they pick something they like and stick with it. But it does have to be fun. If it’s not fun, then the students may not be as committed to it.”

Walters noted that students in Ontario need only acquire one physical education credit in order to obtain their secondary school diploma.

“Non-athletic girls don’t typically go to the gym, and we know that as girls get older their activity levels fall,” she said. “Many of these girls have never been on a team, so this program appeals to their social nature. They’re in a non-competitive environment, they’re learning movements, making friends, and getting healthy.”

Assumption vice-principal Marisa Lipari has been a strong advocate of the program and has already witnessed dramatic improvements in the girls who participate.

“They’re so much more emotionally positive,” she said. “They’re definitely walking out of here feeling more positive about themselves, and about their day.”

Dr. Woodruff said she has about 10 student volunteers participating in the program because they’re keenly interested in health promotion.

“This provides them with a lot of leadership opportunities,” she said.

FUEL volunteers
Kinesiology students Patricia Dubé, Jenn Stefanczyk, Dana Roth and Andrea Vlasic all volunteer with the FUEL program.

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