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New Forest Hills Class Seeks to Boost Girls’ Confidence Through Sports

QUEENS — Can jumping rope boost your daughter’s self-esteem?

The organizers of a new class coming to Forest Hills this fall claim they found a way to build girls’ emotional well-being and leadership skills through physical activity.

GAALS, or Girls Athletics And Life Skills, a program for elementary school girls, focuses on a different physical skill every week and pairs it with a life skill.

Girls “work on these skills without feeling like being at school because all the activities are fun and engaging,” said Maria Mastromarino, a Forest Hills mother of two 7-year-old twins who attended the class on Long Island last year.

Mastromarino, who will now be co-teaching the class in Forest Hills, said that the workshops helped her daughters overcome anxiety after they were placed in separate groups at school for the first time.

She later teamed up with the program’s founder to bring the workshop to Queens.

During the classes, girls practice sports including volleyball, softball and lacrosse. They also twirl hula hoops, do elements of karate and yoga.

After exercising, coaches discuss various life skills with girls.

For example, jumping rope, which requires them to work with other girls, is paired with communication skills. With younger girls, Mastromarino said, coaches discuss how instead of crying they can use their words to tell their parents what they need.

With the older girls, instructors talk about the importance of communicating directly with another person instead of using texts or Facebook messages which may lead to misunderstandings.

Basketball and shooting hoops is used to discuss persistence, the organizers said. “Even if they can’t get it the first time, if they keep practicing they will eventually get it,” Mastromarino said.

Girls also work in teams trying to solve various tasks and take turns being in charge, which develops their leadership skills, the organizers said.

GAALS was founded by Dawn Berkowitz-Ader, a mother of two daughters who weren’t comfortable participating in team sports. Berkowitz-Ader, who previously worked for the History Channel, said she was determined to find out why so many girls felt that way. Her reaserch led her to creating the program.

Beginning September, GAALS classes for girls aged 4–11 will be held at P.S. 196 at 71-25 113th St. on Saturday mornings and Grace Lutheran Church at 103-15 Union Turnpike on Tuesday afternoons. Free trial classes will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at Grace Lutheran Church (Pre-K and K at 5 p.m.; 1st through 3rd grade at 6 p.m. and 4th though 6th grade at 7 p.m.). The entire season from September to January costs $525. For more information go here.