Let’s make GIRLS ACTIVE for life! My name is India Shibil and I have recently launched a new and exciting initiative across International Schools in Switzerland to empower girls through sports and physical activity. I am an educator in Geneva and have previously taught in the UK and Dubai. Being a positive role model and celebrating the “little wins” of the students that I teach, particularly adolescent-aged girls, are two key elements of my job which motivate me daily. The rewarding feeling and drive that I get from my job is what inspired me to introduce GIRLS ACTIVE Switzerland and pass on my passion in a larger capacity.
GIRLS ACTIVE Switzerland is a school-based initiative that I have introduced to engage, inspire and empower adolescent girls through physical activity and sport. It is a programme which will be led and championed by teachers of physical education (PE) across the country to create safe environments for sport, whereby building self-esteem and confidence is at the heart of what is delivered. The initiative aims to create opportunities to increase participation, create a community of confident and active girls through sport, and reduce the percentages of adolescent girls who dropout of physical activity in secondary/high school ages by implementing a change in culture in what is being offered in PE and sport departments across International Schools.
GIRLS ACTIVE launched in September 2022, and is now in place to work alongside the competitive and highly successful pillar of intra and inter school sport already well established here in Switzerland. The GIRLS ACTIVE calendar will include a range of non-competitive sporting events throughout the academic school year targeting teenage girls to meet new people, be physically active and experience new ways of being physically active in addition to educating girls on the power of sport and physical activity on their mental and physical health. These sporting events are encouraged to be attended by students who do not necessarily get selected to represent in school teams, and create an alternative opportunity. Events that will take place as part of the GIRLS ACTIVE programme will happen during school hours (just like those teams who miss a day of school for a football or netball tournament), and the GIRLS ACTIVE team will be selected by the PE teacher of the students. This is a decision in order to break down any barriers that may arise of students having other commitments outside of the school day, transportation barriers or financial concerns which prevent participation.
My aim is to make this as accessible as possible for all adolescent girls who wish to be part of this new and exciting initiative. With this in mind and in order to reduce travel time of attending these events, I have recruited GIRLS ACTIVE ambassadors from different cantons and regions across Switzerland. These ambassadors are in place to host the events in which I organize within their area. There will be events such as; GIRLS ACTIVE Fun run, Ice skating, kickboxing, girls’ leadership in sport meet ups. Each region will have the same GIRLS ACTIVE event with their group of schools in their area/canton in the same week of the academic year in order for the GIRLS ACTIVE community to feel connected. The students who attend can then network, see themselves and watch the community grow through the social media platforms that have been created and well followed already. The aim is to one day get the whole community together to celebrate what has been created and share the positive experiences of being physically active that these students will have had through GIRLS ACTIVE Switzerland. I believe that GIRLS ACTIVE is the perfect opportunity to build a community of confident teenage girls in schools who will then leave with a memory bank full of positive experiences in school sport and a lifelong love for being physically active.
Since starting my teaching journey 7 years ago in the UK, and watching the ever-changing world of education evolve, the role of PE teachers across the globe has changed significantly. Our role used to be to cover a rigorous PE curriculum that was predominantly focused on how we could assess and monitor the progression of students’ skills across a range of sports, build competitive teams and achieve outstanding academic results. I recognize that all of these are all still very important elements of our role. However, the shift to a more holistic view sees the role of a physical educator deliver a PE curriculum whereby students are creating a lifelong love which leads to a healthy and active lifestyle through positive sporting experiences. Experiences which lead to permanent adulthood behaviors.
The core values of GIRLS ACTIVE Switzerland are building confidence and self-esteem which are both values that cannot be taught; they must be built and developed through personal experience. They are also key parts of the job that may have been unintentionally neglected 7 years ago when I started teaching when there were other pressures at the forefront of the role. The change that I have witnessed so far in my short time as an educator has largely been driven by the evolving world of technology and the power of social media. The question I am continually asked is whether `social media is to blame for body conscious teenage girls being disengaged in sport and physical activity`, or whether the unrealistic “FITSPRO” content within the health and fitness industry on social media is leading to girls having an unhealthy perception of what “health and fitness” look like? I for one do not know the answer to these questions, but I do have a strong opinion as I am sure plenty of people reading this do too.
My role as an educator is to inspire, empower, motivate, understand and make the learning relevant to the students that I teach. When launching GIRLS ACTIVE Switzerland, I considered in depth what is currently relevant to adolescent girls’ lives in order to engage and retain them in sport and physical activity through positive experiences. We have just recently finished leading the first GIRLS ACTIVE Switzerland event. There was neon face paint; instax pictures galore; inspiring and motivational quotes; members of the wider community promoting girls’ sports clubs outside of school that students could attended; and finally a hot chocolate once the girls have completed the obstacle course fun run which was an opportunity for them to socialize, meet new people and warm up with a hot drink. Students left feeling inspired, empowered and happy!
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