September 24, 2004
In carpools, on bikes, by foot — girls at Gilbert’s Finley Farms Elementary School do whatever it takes to get to school an hour early each Monday.
As members of Hooked on Health, the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders meet before school to exercise and take part in other activities designed to improve their physical, emotional and social well-being.
Sponsored by social worker Kendra Benedetti, the club for preteen girls meets weekly at Finley Farms. The program costs the girls nothing — except an extra hour of sleep.
Benedetti said she likes to exercise, and "thought the kids needed it." Her goal is to keep the girls motivated and active, if only for the hour they meet.
An hour of exercise per week could significantly cut obesity among girls ages 5 to 6, according to the largest study to date on childhood obesity. The study was conducted by the Rand Corp., which will release findings on older girls next year.
If the same amount of exercise proves to be beneficial to older girls, Benedetti’s Hooked on Health members will have a leg up on their more sedentary sisters.
The club is popular. A recent Monday brought about 40 girls to Benedetti’s room at Finley Farms.
Benedetti popped in "The Firm," an exercise videotape of aerobics, calisthenics and weight-training. The girls tried their best to mimic the moves, even without the benefit of handweights. A few marched in place. Benedetti urged them on when some lost interest.
On a board, a message in red explained what the club is all about: "We are friendly, make healthy choices, like ourselves and try our best."
The girls read the motto every week before they exercise. Benedetti said, "It’s so critical at this age to build confidence and self-esteem."
Besides building confidence and muscles, the club is also about building friendships.
"I really like meeting new people while you work out," fourth-grader Anna Camacha said.
Benedetti is serious about the girls being friendly toward one another. After each exercise session, the girls gather in small groups to remind one another "you are beautiful inside and out."