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Girls-Only Empowerment Gym Class Kicks Off in Queens

A new kids’ athletics program opening in Queens this September is betting that the girls of Forest Hills might appreciate a little “gals-only” gym time.

GAALS (Girls Athletic and Life Skills) combines sports with life-skill lessons and promotes its classes as a way for girls from kindergarten to sixth grade to gain physical and mental confidence—”to feel comfortable participating, instead of standing on the sidelines.” Each class includes time spent on a physical task like playing catch and then a less tangible skill, such as teamwork. Volleyball and leadership is another example.

Although my daughter isn’t yet old enough to participate, in the Lean In era, I was eager to check out any NYC class where girl empowerment was a theme. Read on for Mommy Poppins’ scoop on this new NYC class offering, what to expect and how it got started.

GAALS got its start from Long Island mom Dawn Berkowitz-Ader who created the sports-life-skills program when she realized her daughters weren’t enjoying the usual organized sports offered at school.

Each GAALS class is led by a female coach who is a psychology graduate student or a local teacher. Female high schoolers also serve as aides to classes, further promoting the role model and positive encouragement theme.

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Girls are partnered up and learn team building skills.

Social skill lessons are woven into each interactive games. For example, one exercise I witnessed asked girls to literally walk in someone else’s shoe, a subtle message to never judge someone without getting to know them first. Kids are then partnered up and encouraged to walk together, with one ankle tied to the opposite ankle of their new friend. In the game “Telephone,” girls learn why simple communication—talking to others in a positive way—is vital to teamwork, friendship and self-esteem.

“In GAALS, one of our goals is to feel good and have fun without being self-conscious about throwing [a ball],” says Berkowitz-Ader. “The classes encourage girls to try something new, such as badminton or lacrosse, with a support system.”

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Interactive stations are arranged throughout the space and participants have a turn at each station. One station might include a cone path girls have to navigate while balancing a beanbag; a second might house a color trail of raised pods to conquer. Everything is designed to build camaraderie and confidence in a noncompetitive environment.

The program expanded from Long Island to Queens with the first NYC class opening this September in Forest Hills. One-hour classes will meet after school on certain weekdays, but GAALS is also offering several Saturday options. A class for pre-K girls is also in the works. Each session is 17 weeks long.

Interactive stations provide challenges to boost confidence and agility.

“Our program attracts all types of girls,” says Berkowitz-Ader. “The not-so athletic girls, those who lack self-esteem/confidence, those who are shy and/or need some help with social skills, and the athletic girls who want to explore other sports and build more skills.”

Classes end with a group hug!

GAALS after-school classes will be held at Grace Lutheran Church, 103-15 Union Turnpike and at P.S. 101, 2 Russell Place, and beginning September 22. Saturday classes can be found at P.S. 196, 71-25 113th Street. For more info, visit the GAALS website.

For more ways to explore Forest Hills with kids, check out our Forest Hills Neighborhood Guide.