For the past 10 years at Westfield, a room within one of its side hallways has transformed into a cherished, uplifting space for female students- the Girls’ Fitness room. Created and taught by Sharlean Grinups, PE and Girls Fitness Teacher, the trailblazing class has inspired students and other schools alike.
As Girls Fitness marks its tenth year, instead of celebrating, the class was gifted by Westfield’s Administration with a notice of its removal following the end of the school year
Grinups, a long-time PE teacher, launched the first Girls Fitness class in Fairfax County which prompted numerous schools in the county to follow suit. Over the past decade, Girls Fitness has gotten increasingly popular with the class having an extensive waitlist every year. Last year, this prompted Grinups to solely teach Girls Fitness in order to better accommodate the class’ interest. Girls Fitness has between three to four sections with Grinups teaching between 80 to 100 girls.
Grinups has been praised for the work she has done to uplift her girls, create unity amongst them, instill healthier lifestyle choices, and be a trusted adult for them to lean on. One of the core messages of the class is self-confidence and self-esteem. Through activities such as meditation, yoga, boxing, kickboxing, self-defense, bodyweights, dance, zumba, introduction into lifting, gratuity logs, and more, these young women are allowed to express and explore themselves in a safe, judgment-free space. For the past eight years, Grinups’ efforts have been rewarded by the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia (CFNV). CFNV has given grants which Grinups has used to provide new athletic shoes for every girl in the class.
“Mrs. Grinups has had such a huge impact on my life in the short two years I have known her. My favorite part of the class is when we sit in a circle and talk about different issues in our lives. Mrs. Grinups always listens without any judgment. She is truly one of the most kind, selfless, understanding people I have met,” said Hayley Berrick, 11.
The reason gave by Westfield’s Administration for the discontinuation of Girls Fitness is “Westfield cannot have a gender-specific class.” In order for the class to continue there needed to be a ”neutral” name change such as “Fitness” and be open to male students, so it’s not discriminating against a gender. This would hinder the focal purpose of Girls Fitness. Most of the young women who sign up for the class are either intimidated or simply do not want the pressure of having their male peer’s presence and or judgment.
Westfield’s issue of gender-specific classes is in response to the school board’s Nondiscrimination Policy to protect transgender students. The Watchdog contacted Stella Pekarsky and Abrar Omeish, school board members who both expressed support for classes such as Girls Fitness without any concerns. Rather than proposing solutions to truly save the class, Westfield tried to do away with a core part of its history. Personal Fitness is a class open to all students. The weight training class is predominately taken by male athletes, but how inclusive is the class if not every student’s fitness goal revolves around weightlifting. Instead of removing Girls Fitness, there have been calls by the community to create a similarly formatted Boys Fitness class. This would allow students to join the fitness class they identify with while preserving the class’ focal goal.
As of last week, after persistent pressure from the Westfield community and school board, Westfield reinstated its Girls Fitness class. There will be a separate boy’s section if there’s enough interest. Even though the class missed promotion during the annual electives fair and to incoming freshmen, there is still profound excitement surrounding its return.
Classes like Girls Fitness are important because students particularly learn from peers who are of the same gender, race, ethnicity, or hold similar interests united by an honest, common goal. Grinups always tells her girls, “finish what you start,” but their time as a class is certainly not close to finished.