Antonija Mracovcic powers her way through a set of pull-ups during after-school strength and conditioning at Duchess Park Secondary.

Joey Joseph works on her upper body strength. 

Leader Erica McLean demonstrates proper lifting technique for students.

Antonija Mracovcic works out with a medicine ball.

Funding boosts after-school programming for high school girls

Antonija Mracovcic was glad she signed up.

For eight weeks, the Duchess Park student participated in after-school strength and conditioning sessions in her school’s weight room. The sessions were part of a School District No. 57 pilot program for girls at the secondary school level.

Thanks to provincial funding through the After School Sport and Arts Initiative, programming for girls in Grades 8 through 12 is happening at multiple schools in the district. The training sessions at Duchess wrapped up at the end of November but ASSAI opportunities are continuing in various forms. Some of the other options for students include self-defence classes, nutrition awareness/healthy relationships with food, hip-hop dance, Olympic weightlifting, cooking and art. Earlier in the school year, students even learned the finer points of how to apply makeup from There’s A Beauty Prince George.

For her part, the Grade 12 Mracovcic found physical and mental benefits connected to the strength and conditioning regimen at Duchess.

“It has helped me focus on my core (muscles) a lot and I’m realizing I’m a lot stronger than I thought with deadlifts and doing pull-ups,” she said. “It’s also nice to use to clear your mind, get in a different head space. Grade 12 is a little stressful.”

Mracovcic is a volleyball player but has been kept off the court because of a back injury she sustained while horseback riding. She said the after-school workouts also helped with the rehabilitation of her back.

Erica McLean, a community school coordinator in SD 57, led the Duchess Park strength and conditioning sessions, which attracted about 10 students for each of the eight get-togethers. McLean said the workouts, which she also ran at D.P. Todd Secondary School, were a perfect fit within the bigger ASSAI picture.

“It is our job, as the adults that work with students in their schools and develop these relationships with them, to help them develop and realize how strong and how capable they really are,” said McLean, who has been coordinating the ASSAI program in partnership with SD 57’s Tracey Fuller. “And I always mention to them that the workouts are not the final goal, the final product of this. The workout that we do in here is one way to build that inner strength, that positive self-talk or that resilience or whatever you want to call it.

“Maybe you’ve had a horrible day – you have a headache, you got into a fight with your friend – but you come in here and even though you hate your workout you keep chipping your way through it,” McLean added. “You keep going and you keep struggling through it – that builds a ton of resilience and I am a big fan of communicating that to them consistently. The resilience you develop here, it applies to everything else in your life.”

Assistance from community partners is playing a significant role in the scope and success of the ASSAI program so far. Shadow Martial Arts, Kaiten MMA and the Prince George Judo Club have been overseeing self-defence classes (which were high on the priority list of students), Branco Nutrition has been delivering information on healthy eating and relationships with food, Judy Russell has been instructing in hip-hop dance and CrossFit Prince George coaches will teach Olympic weightlifting starting in January.

McLean and Fuller started laying the groundwork for the district’s ASSAI programming in September. They knew support from the community would be a vital piece of the project and it proved abundant.

“We started listing activities and from there we drew names with personal relationships we already had or connections and then just started making phone calls and meeting with people,” McLean said. “And it was so easy because people really want to help. It’s been an exciting journey so far.”