Physical education: Don’t neglect need for students

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You want to talk about "getting blood out of a turnip" and all you have to do is to take a look at what has been done to the expectation of schools to teach literally everything to students from the academics, music and arts, foreign language, physical education, character education, drug prevention education, technology, careers, etc. all while seeking to insure that students get sufficient instruction to pass the accountability exams necessary for meeting NCLB.

The curriculum of the school day has been added to for years, and to the best of my knowledge, I can’t think of the first thing that we have removed. During all of these additions, I don’t recall the length of the school day or school year being lengthened by perhaps more than a few minutes in some cases and in many systems not at all. In this case, the reverse may be true for most districts.

This month’s blog talks a little about one of my favorite classes in elementary and junior high school – physical education. While during my elementary years we did not have as much physical education time as perhaps today, I can still fondly remember Martin Almond coming to Pearl Stephens Elementary School in Macon to give us our physical education classes. Somehow I suspect my teachers enjoyed that time as much as we did.

It was in those classes that I learned how to exercise to the cadence of "one, two, three, four….two, two, three four". I was "fit as a fiddle" and know without a doubt that neither me nor any of my friends were on Ritalin or other medicines to control our attention deficits!!! Oh well, times have changed, but one thing has not changed and that is the need for students to have the opportunity to get physical education as a part of the school day.

Times are different today than they were when I was growing up. We had but one television channel, there were no such things as computers and video games, and though she’d probably get locked up for doing this today, but my mom would lock us out of the house just so we would stay outside and play.

Today, while we are fortunate to have wonderful recreational opportunities in this community through our parks and recreation department, we have numbers of kids in America who don’t get regular doses of exercise. Obesity and obesity related ailments plague America, and our health care system is burdened by this lack of fitness on the part of both children and adults. All of this is taking place, while we continue to "put the squeeze" on physical education instruction in schools.

We have numbers of kids in America who don’t get regular doses of exercise.

What are some of the known benefits of physical education?

• Better physical fitness

• Better health

• Reduced stress

• Higher concentration

• Greater flexibility

• Better muscle tone

• Lower body fat mass index

• Sportsmanship

• Teamwork

Research on a number of fronts suggests that there is a growing body of evidence that physical activity can positively influence learning.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that elementary-school girls who received 70 to 300 minutes of physical education a week scored higher on standardized tests. They also participated and concentrated more in class.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that physically active and fit kids tend to have better academic achievement.

You can do your own research on the subject, but the information seems to be consistent in finding that physical activity can benefit students in a number of ways as I have listed above.

The problem, though, is that as school districts have faced on one hand budget dilemmas and on the other competing demands for time to concentrate on core academic subjects, in some situations across America, physical education programs have been cut and/or the time students spend in PE has been reduced. It seems to me that once again, "we’ve burned the house down to kill the rat", and the problem gets bigger and bigger (no pun intended).

What is the solution that is in the best interest of students? No doubt that there are differing opinions on this topic just like it seems every issue regarding educational issues, but I propose that first we begin by recognizing the physical education is an important and vital part of the school day.

Secondly, we’ve got to insure that not only policy makers recognize the value of physical activity, but that we as educators understand that we must maximize the time that we have allocated to PE to meet students needs. As parents, we can also work to encourage our children to have the opportunity to "play" and compete in physical activities that contribute to healthy physical and emotional growth and development.

OK, what do you think?

Do you have any suggestions on how we can meet these needs of students while at the same time insuring that sufficient quality instructional time is given to other necessary opportunities?

Finally, and this is TOTALLY in jest, but the legislator who proposed schools measure BMI may have been partially right as he understands "what gets measured gets done."

I do look forward to your comments, suggestions, and contributions.

For blogs from Forsyth County Superintendent Buster Evans, visit www.forysth.k12.ga.us.