School of Education alumna Jessica Butera (MS ’15), a physical education teacher at Stephen A. Halsey Junior High School 157 in Rego Park, New York, won two grants totaling $2,500 for her school earlier this spring. Butera and five of her eighth grade students attended the Girls 4 Tomorrow competition in New York City, where they successfully pitched their ideas to make their school a healthier environment.
“I thought that it would be such an incredible experience for the girls to be a part of a school event that focuses on health and wellness,” Butera said. “Physical education tends to be underestimated at times, so it was also a great way for the girls to notice how important living a healthy lifestyle really is, and that Phys Ed does matter.”
The Girls 4 Tomorrow competition is a free innovation series that empowers teen girls to become entrepreneurs and future nutrition leaders in their schools and communities; it is a collaboration between youth advocacy program GENYOUth and nutrition education nonprofit Dannon Institute. This year’s national workshop series were open to girls ages 13 to 17 in Forth Worth, Texas, and the five boroughs of New York City. Fifty students at each event engaged in a head-to-head pitch competition to compete for $15,000 in grant funding for 12 projects in each location.
After Butera was notified that she was accepted to participate, she chose five students to accompany her and immediately got to work. “I told them to start looking around the school and see what could be changed to make the school a healthier environment — just to get their wheels turning,” she said.
Butera’s students attended the Girls 4 Tomorrow competition at the Manhattan Penthouse on March 15. They participated in a five-hour workshop where they developed and refined ideas to improve health and wellness in their schools and received professional mentoring from Dannon Institute and Dannon company leaders.
The girls pitched three ideas: “Gym 4 All,” which gives students options in P.E. class and is primarily aimed at girls who are not comfortable participating in sporting activities such as soccer, basketball and volleyball. “They wanted the students to have other options which included dance, fitness, and yoga-type of activities,” Butera said. The girls were awarded a $1,000 grant for new equipment, such as yoga mats and speakers for the dance component.
Their “Water 4 All” idea proposed replacing the water fountains in their school that do not work properly, for which they received a $1,500 grant.
And while their third pitch did not win, their idea was solid. The girls proposed replacing unhealthy snacks in the school’s vending machine with healthier options.
Butera has already launched the Gym 4 All initiative in her school. She designed what she calls the “hybrid unit,” which incorporates dance, yoga and fitness. Students had the option to participate in the hybrid unit or soccer unit. Those who chose soccer participate with Butera’s co-teacher, and those who chose hybrid participate with Butera.
And plans are under way to install two new water fountains with the grant awarded for Water 4 All. With the help of school custodians, two fountains have been selected and will be installed before school lets out for summer. One fountain, which has a bottle filler, will be placed in the girls gym, and a second water fountain will be placed in the boys gym.
“It was truly a great experience to see them being so mature, professional and hardworking for an entire day all about P.E.,” Butera said, referring to the workshop in March. “So rare for 8th grade teenage girls!”