HEALTH GROUPS PUSH TO GET STUDENTS MOVING IN PHYS ED
Health coalition: State needs to get moving on movement
Physical education is tired of being shoved into a corner by the likes of math, science and reading comprehension, and a coalition of Colorado health groups is advocating that PE be considered a priority along with academic classes.
PE for All Colorado says physical activity should be required 30 minutes daily, or 150 minutes per week, for all students in preschool through fifth grade. Students in grades 6-12 should do PE for 45 minutes daily, or 225 minutes per week.
The coalition contends that doing so would raise test scores and achievement while staving off a rising tide of childhood obesity. The group decries that Colorado is one of only four states with no physical education requirement at all. It never has. Physical education requirements are left up to the individual school districts.
“All the research is catching up to us now and it says we were wrong to get rid of recess and we were wrong to get rid of movement,” said Chris Strater, a 30-year classroom veteran. “The only way to get neurons firing is through movement. It can’t be done through reading, and it can’t be done through math.”
Strater started the 2015 school year at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in Aurora teaching 12 sections of physical education every day, so that each of the school’s 312 children could have some sort of daily PE instruction. Strater has since cut back to four days a week of PE for planning and preparation time.
But it hasn’t quelled her fiery advocacy. She has testified at the state legislature and teaches prospective instructors across the state.
She has seen PE curriculum change over the years. Long gone are the days of free-for-all PE classes that dealt out bumps, bruises and humiliation. Dodge ball, anyone? “We don’t make kids climb a rope all the way to the top and say if you don’t, ‘Well, you are no good,’ ” Strater said.
These days, it’s more about teamwork, constant movement and learning about good nutrition.
“It’s about helping someone get better, getting into a huddle, creating a plan and carrying out that plan,” Strater said. “It’s completely changed now.”
Starter is highlighted in a recent report by PE for All Colorado Coalition, a group that includes LiveWell Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado. The coalition wants PE instruction to get greater emphasis in local schools and to have a better way to track student involvement in PE.
“We are not saying PE should be mandatory tomorrow,” said Sarah Kurtz, vice president of policy and communication
“We don’t make kids climb a rope all the way to the top and say if you don’t, ‘Well, you are no good.’ ” Teacher Chris Strater
for LiveWell Colorado. “We just see PE as a fundamental part of what schools should be providing for kids.”
But there is scant data on the effectiveness of PE programs, the coalition says.
A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study conducted in 2014 of 41 school districts found that only 13 percent included language in their policies that required or encouraged specific minutes for PE.
About 73 percent of the districts had a specific policy to meet the requirements of a state statute that says elementary schools provide “opportunities” for at least 600 minutes of physical activity per month, according to the coalition.
Many school districts, meanwhile, have dropped PE classes or requirements to make way for more classroom instruction. And usually, that hits low-income schools and kids the hardest, the coalition says.
“When a school district increases instruction time for English as a second language, those kids are pulled out of PE,” Kurtz said. “It creates a huge inequity for which student is getting PE.”
But districts often don’t see any other option, Lyn Knoll principal Andrea Tucker said.
“When it comes to budget cuts, and it’s classroom teacher against the specialist, like a PE instructor, the district ends up cutting the specialist,” Tucker said.
When Denver Public Schools proposed earlier this year to cut the PE requirement to graduate high school, it drew considerable backlash.
Aurora Public Schools eliminated its high school PE requirement in 2011, and the board of education’s decision, said Aurora Public School spokeswoman Patti Moon, was intended to give students more choice and free up time to pursue more career-focused classes and opportunities.
Students in Aurora Public Schools can take PE electives ranging from health and activity for life to competitive and lifetime sports to sport-specific strength and conditioning.
“Students have the opportunity to choose any of those elective classes that are offered in each building,” Moon said.
Some Aurora schools require all freshmen to take the health and activity for life class while other schools try to get all students to take some type of activity class, she said.
But advocates say cutting back on physical education time is contributing to higher rates of obesity among kids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Colorado was one of three states that experienced a “small but statistically significant” increase in early childhood obesity from 9.4 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2011. The same study, released in 2013, found that one in four children in Colorado were overweight or obese.
This in a state that routinely scores among the highest in the country for physical fitness and health. The problem, Kurtz says, is that those national surveys are bolstered by transplants moving here for the outdoorsy atmosphere.
“We are importing people who come here for the healthy lifestyle,” she said, “but we are not necessarily raising our kids with those same opportunities.”
More PE will boost academic skills, say studies cited by the coalition. A review of 2.4 million students in Texas using physical fitness test results found “significant school-level correlations” between physical fitness achievement and better performance on standardized tests.
Tucker said she’s seen the difference at Lyn Knoll, where 78 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Students who have just finished one of Strater’s classes come in more focused and relaxed while exhibiting better reading skills.
The school’s statewide test scores also have climbed since Strater started there four years ago. Other factors certainly came into play including the addition of an art and music program, Tucker said.
“They just seem to be more willing to settle down and concentrate,” Tucker said.
Every student does something in Strater’s class, from jumping rope to stretching and yoga. She also quizzes them on good food choices and how to act during class.
The message certainly has been received by 9year-old David Fresquez.
“This class helps our muscles and be healthy,” David said. “When you grow up you will get obese and diabetes, cancer and a heart attack if you sit on the couch all day.”
Priscilla Affloh, 8, foreground, and her classmates hula-hoop during Chris Strater’s physical education class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in Aurora on Wednesday. A new report says physical education in Colorado is seriously lagging, but Strater is trying to change that, lobbying for more PE classes, not fewer.
Miguel Rosales, 8, does as many push-ups as he can in Chris Strater’s PE class. His friends, David Perez, 8, and Julio Rivera, 9, far right, look on. Strater says PE has changed for the better, no longer doling out bumps, bruises and humiliation.