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Seventh grade girls in the GAP! Teton Valley program get acquainted with horses at Hapi Trails. 

Courtesy Photo/Kristin Combs | Teton Valley News

The new Girls Actively Participating program at Teton Middle School is halfway through its second nine-week session and director Kristin Combs thinks it’s having a big impact.

GAP! was founded in Jackson over two decades ago and after executive director Jess Yeomans led two summer girls’ leadership workshops in Teton Valley, the call arose for an expanded pilot program in Idaho. Through Education Foundation of Teton Valley funding with a competitive grant from the Community Foundation of Teton Valley, the program started at the beginning of this school year with almost 20 seventh grade girls. The cost of the program is only $20, with scholarships available.

“The seventh graders felt like they made new friends and new connections and they said they were happy to get more familiar with the community,” Combs said.

Building on that success, Combs is now working with sixth grade girls, and eighth grade session will start later in the spring.

Some of the weekly sessions happen in the classroom, during which the girls, Combs, and sometimes guests practice team-building and discuss ideas like positive self talk and body image, being assertive, and being comfortable with oneself.

“We focus on building confidence, competence, and community connectedness, three things that strong women generally have in their lives,” Combs said. “GAP! is about instilling those pillars in girls and giving them the tools to success.”

When they’re not in the classroom, the girls are out exploring the valley. So far they’ve enjoyed a broad range of experiences, from snowshoeing with the Grand Targhee naturalist to milking goats on a farm to talking about healthy living at Anytime Fitness. At the Hapi Trails facility, under the watchful eyes of Jennifer Carter and Julie Martin, the girls learned to work with horses and show confidence in different settings.

Combs said that she welcomes any invite from nonprofits or businesses. She also hopes to register more students from the Teton Valley Community School and the Learning Academy.

“It’s pretty much wide open,” she said. “We want to make this as fun and engaging as possible and get these girls out into the community.”

One of the big challenges that Combs sees in this era is the constant bombardment of social media and how it shapes girls’ self esteem. That’s why GAP!, as part of its Raising Girls program, is leading a conversation on March 19 about parenting in the digital age. Raising Girls program director Carrie Kirkpatrick and Rachel Wigglesworth of Growing Great Families will provide Teton Valley parents with trends, tips, and tools for a balanced home life, including creating a technology contract with one’s children.

The meeting, which will be held at the former Targhee Baptist Church building in Driggs from 6 to 7 p.m., is appropriate for any parents who have a child with a smart device or are planning to give their children devices in the future. For more information on GAP! or the Positive Parenting in the Digital Age meeting, visit gapjh.org.