The West Virginia Health and Physical Education Leadership Academy: This Ultimate Inservice Equips Health and Physical Educators to Face Today's Educational Challenges

Article excerpt

School-based health and physical education programs face more challenges and opportunities than ever before. A major challenge is the ongoing obesity crisis in the United States (Dietz, 2004). Although sedentary behavior is acknowledged as a risk factor for many diseases--including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes (Blair et al., 1995; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996)--health care costs associated with diseases related to inactivity and poor health habits continue to increase (Pratt, Macera, & Wang, 2002).

Along with these challenges come opportunities for health and physical education to contribute to the wellness of children and young adults. For example, research indicates that quality school-based health and physical education programs may contribute to increased levels of physical activity in childhood that can extend into adulthood (Silverman, 2005; Taylor, Blair, Cummings, Wun, & Malina, 1999). These findings have prompted policymakers, educational leaders, and parents to have high expectations for health and physical education programs to enhance the wellness of children.

The challenge for health and physical education is to provide high quality, standards-based programs that will produce tangible results in children. Unfortunately, many health and physical education teachers may not be fully prepared to meet this challenge. Chen (2006) reported that only four in 25 teachers integrated the national standards (National Association of Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2004) into their teaching. Castelli and Williams (2007) found that the fitness knowledge (NASPE standard 4) of 73 middle school physical education teachers was low and did not meet the ninth-grade level of the South Carolina assessment program. Similarly, in a study of elementary health education in North Carolina, Bennett and Dowd (2001) concluded that health educators must become better able to apply national standards in program development.

Current standards (NASPE, 2003, 2004) have expanded the role of teachers and require that they collaborate with parents, colleagues, and the community to create opportunities for physical activity and healthy choices in and outside of school. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed the Coordinated School Health Program (CSHP), in which health and physical education programs play a prominent role (CDC, 2007). According to the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (2004), education agencies in the National School Lunch Program must create county wellness-policy committees to assess and oversee a CSHP in every school.

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Taken together, the findings from research and the increased expectations for health and physical education point to the need for ongoing professional development (PD) for teachers (Armour & Yelling, 2004). Although the need for PD is important throughout the United States, the need is particularly great in West Virginia.

West Virginia is among the nation's highest in the chronic disease risk factors of tobacco use, poor eating habits, physical inactivity, and obesity. Seven out of 10 West Virginians die from heart disease, cancer, or stroke. Also, the age-adjusted rate of heart-disease mortality is the second highest in the nation, and the stroke rate is higher than the national average (West Virginia Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease, 2007).

Data from the West Virginia Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Appalachian Communities (WV CARDIAC) project show that many risk factors for chronic disease are already prevalent in elementary-age children. Of the almost 45,000 fifth graders participating in school-based health screenings since 1998, 27.1 percent were overweight (BMI above the 95th percentile) and an additional 18.4 percent were at risk of becoming overweight (BMI above the 85th percentile). In addition, the results showed that almost 20 percent of the children had abnormal blood lipids, and 4. …