Health and Physical Education as an Important Part of School Curricula: A Comparison of Schools for the Deaf in the Czech Republic and the United States

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THE AUTHORS describe and compare how physical education classes and healthy lifestyle concepts are taught in selected Czech and U.S. schools for the deaf. Professionals who participated in the study included principals and teachers employed by 4 schools for the deaf. Data from schools were collected during the summer and fall semesters, and subsequent interviews were conducted with the principals and physical education teachers. Unique characteristics were exhibited by each of the 4 schools. The settings for extracurricular physical and sports activities varied by school type (residential or nonresidential). Findings indicated that the general trend in physical education has changed from a focus on sports performance to health- promoting activities. There were opportunities for teachers to revise curriculum programs to further promote the health and academic success of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The practice of including students with special needs in traditional public school classes remains controversial among educators around the world. The proponents of inclusion believe that all students should receive their education in general education classrooms and that teachers should be prepared to meet the needs of all students placed in their classrooms. The opponents of inclusion view this practice as unrealistic, believing that it takes time away from the teaching of students without disabilities (Moores, 2001). The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142) and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA, Public Law 105-17) have had a significant impact on the way children with disabilities are receiving their education today. Although PL 94-142 has been amended several times, it by no means mandates that students be included in general education classrooms. Rather, it does require that children with disabilities be educated on the basis of their unique needs. Subsequently, the intent of IDEA has been to provide children with an array of placement options in the least restrictive environment.

Within public school settings, students receive instruction in English, history, mathematics, and science. Many of them also enroll in physical education courses. This subject area frequently provides challenges for instructors as they strive to deliver services to students with special needs. This is especially true when they must adhere to the regulations stipulated in IDEA.

Although residential schools for the deaf often find it challenging to promote a healthy lifestyle and offer courses in physical education while meeting the needs of a diverse student body, faculty and staff nonetheless are afforded the opportunity to provide a rich environment for students by offering healthy, nutritious food choices and a variety of sports programs. These programs not only promote physical development, they also provide students with a fundamental knowledge of various sports and the skill sets needed to become active participants. Research indicates that sports programs can foster and promote self-confidence, and thereby set the stage for students to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity (National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2003). In essence, physical education can help create important connections among emotional, social, and academic development, and can influence the future lifestyle of the individual.

The positive effects of engaging in physical activity to (a) prevent cardiovascular diseases and cancer, (b) promote bone, joint, and muscle health, (c) enhance mental health, and (d) prevent or control diabetes have been well established (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Physical education standards have been developed into consensus statements that denote what a student should know and be able to do. IDEA requires that each student with special education needs be provided with the opportunity to participate in regular physical education classes designed to address the specific needs of the child. …