Health coali­tion: State needs to get mov­ing on move­ment

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Monte Wha­ley

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.”

Pho­tos by He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

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.

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