PE stretches beyond gym class
Physical education these days can include students reading books in the library while peddling exercise bikes, doing jumping jacks midway through algebra or gyrating to the Dance Dance Revolution videogame.
“Teachers are looking at movement on a more comprehensive level beyond the gymnasium doors to make it systemic. That’s really new and entrepreneurial,” says Fran Cleland, a former president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NAPSE).
The NAPSE has set a goal that every child have at least an hour of physical activity every day. The organization’s recently released 2012 Shape of the Nation Report shows that states are falling short of that goal, but they are moving in the right direction.
Beyond PE classes, many schools today emphasize movement within the classroom and “brain breaks” in classes. Approaches and the mandates behind them are broad and open to interpretation, so the amount and scope of physical education varies widely.
New Jersey requires K-12 students to have 150 minutes per week of health, safety or PE instruction. “We are looking to empower students to develop their physical, social and emotional wellness through a blended set of standards,” explains Brendan O’Reilly, health and physical education coordinator for the NJ State Department of Education.
Delaware and Pennsylvania mandate that all children must have physical education, but don’t quantify the amount. According to John Ray, education specialist for physical education in the Delaware Department of Education, “We have a strong recommendation of 150 minutes of physical education and activity per week and more than 75% of our schools adhere to that.”
“Pennsylvania schools are looking for skill development in things that will allow children to be motivated and skillful enough to participate in after-school, before-school, and lifetime activities for a healthier community,” says Linda Woods Huber, executive director of the State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
PE is still intended to be fun, but schools now recognize that kids need to get off the couch and adopt a fit lifestyle. The national movement Let’s Move in School, encourages teachers to insert activity breaks throughout the day to stimulate the brain and enhance learning.
“Quality physical education is critical to a child’s development,” points out Woods Huber. “Research proves that activity will help our brain function better and we will learn better.”
In New Jersey, students are encouraged to take 5-minute physical activity breaks during classes. “We’re also bringing technology to the classroom to increase the students’ interest in physical activity,” says O’Reilly. “We have an app called Coach’s Eye with which students can get on their phones or tablets and be videotaped live in the classroom during a dance routine, for example, and teachers can make corrections in a movement. In another school we have an approved curriculum that uses Dance Dance Revolution.”
“Our goal, mission, strategy, and big idea is fit for life,” notes Ray. “Once students graduate they will be able to develop and adhere to a fitness plan throughout their life.”
Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.