Getting Kids Moving in the Right Direction Today's Physical Education Teachers Emphasize 'Fitness for Life'

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Dassow Daily Herald Correspondent

Dr. Mary Mikhailov, a Wheaton pediatrician in private practice, gets frequent requests from children to excuse them from gym class.

"I can only assume some of the teachers are like my Miss Holdridge," she said with a laugh, recalling a not-so-fit teacher who sat by and watched her students sweat. "Hopefully there is a new breed of gym teacher out there."

Today's physical education teacher doesn't just sit on the sidelines and bark orders. These professionals are trying to relay to their students the need for fitness.

The surgeon general's 1996 Report on Physical Activity and Health found inadequate activity levels among youth.

Close to home, teachers who work with young people are personally aware of these downward trends.

"More and more kids are leading a sedentary lifestyle, with computers and television," said Laverne Uvodich, a physical education instructor at Glenn Westlake Middle School in Lombard.

"What we really need to do is make sure kids are getting enough exercise - thirty minutes a day, five to seven days a week - to keep them healthy and well," she said.

Illinois is the only state that requires daily physical education classes in middle school, she said.

At Westlake, the students get 45 minutes of physical education each day.

The problem is a little more complex, Mikhailov said. Too often, children are categorized into those who are very athletic and those who are not.

"It's one extreme or the other," she said. The increasing competitiveness of sports, like weekend soccer teams, makes it much harder for those who aren't so athletic to be active.

And even though children spend time in the school gym, their home life tends to bear out the surgeon general's findings, said Fran Sebald, who teaches physical education at Albright Middle School in Villa Park.

"I know a lot of kids in this area who, when they leave school, that's the only exercise they get. They go home and stay home," she said.

"The fact that they're latch-key kids doesn't help. They eat while they're at home alone. They watch TV, and during every commercial, there's food in the kitchen," Sebald said.

Nicki Anderson, a Naperville fitness practitioner, is tuned in to the situation from two viewpoints: She's a mother and a personal trainer.

"A lot of women say they were never active when they were kids. (Active) girls were labeled tomboys," she said. "And boys were either jocks or nerds. There was no in between."

Today's children can have more alternatives, Anderson said, especially those whose parents are active themselves.

But parents can't do it alone.

"It's got to be a partnership between home and school," Anderson said. For starters, instructors can end the practice of letting the student captains pick their teams.

"The fit kids are always picked first, and the others sit back, thinking, 'I'm so uncoordinated,' " Anderson said. Self-esteem plummets.

"To get everyone's participation - that's key," Mikhailov said. "That's a challenge, I know."

The doctor doesn't like to pull patients from gym, but makes one exception. It is important to allow an injury enough time to heal, she said. Children often keep playing, perhaps prodded by competitive parents, causing re-injuries.

Teachers also can boost their students' awareness of fitness by setting an example, Anderson said. She has heard stories of teachers like Miss Holdridge. …