Getting Kids Up and Moving at School (page 2)
Fewer and fewer students are able to bike or walk to school each day, and afterschool programs focus more on academics than on exercise. These are two missed opportunities for physical activity for our schoolchildren. A non-profit organization formed specifically to address the epidemic of childhood obesity, Action for Healthy Kids, reported that 75 percent of kids get less than 20 minutes of vigorous exercise per day (Action for Healthy Kids, 2004).
“Not only is exercise vitally important, but teaching students why they should exercise is also important,” says Gary Sharpe, a former PE and math teacher, former school administrator and state legislator, and who now heads the Missouri Association of School Administrators. “We need to teach the physiology of exercise, and we need to have kids understand why it’s important, not just impose periods of activity,” says Sharpe. “This will help them build the mindset and habits to stay with them through adulthood.”
Audrey Satterblom, a health and physical education teacher in the Indianapolis Public Schools, agrees. “Helping students learn how and why they should be active throughout their lives is as critical an issue as providing physical education classes and healthy food choices.”
A recent report on childhood obesity released by the Government Accountability Office identified “increasing physical activity” as the first priority to combat the epidemic. Program officials identified multiple challenges in implementing key strategies, including a lack of or inconsistent physical education requirements by school districts, and infrastructure concerns, like the need for sidewalks. Other strategies to increase physical activity, according to the experts cited in the GAO report, were for incentives to encourage activity during recess or at other times throughout the day, or pedometers to older children to encourage walking. Proper policies must be implemented in districts in order to support health education and skills-based learning, which are important steps to lifelong behavior change.
Satterblom’s district was funded by a Physical Education Program (PEP) grant to use physical activity as a tool to improve academics. “Exercise helps kids become healthy so they can more readily learn,” she said. Furthermore, physical education classes that teach students sports skills that can last a lifetime are more important than large-group sports where students spend the majority of their time waiting in line for their turn. That is, PE teachers need to get all students active in sports that will keep them that way, such as golf, swimming, tennis and walking.
“When Eugene White arrived as our new superintendent last year, I went to him and explained our program. He is someone who thinks outside of the box, and he was 100 percent behind our program,” Satterblom notes.
One example of overcoming environmental barriers can be taken from Indianapolis. Physical activity in the Indianapolis schools reaches far beyond PE classes. “What we need,” Satterblom explains, “are action-packed classrooms. This is a chance for teachers to be creative. Instead of standing in front of students at their desks and explaining the concept of fractions, divide the students up and send them to different corners of the room. Bring them back together again to demonstrate a quarter or a half. This keeps students up and moving while they are learning.”
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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