Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The New P.E: Preparing Students to Make Healthy Decisions about Physical Activity, Health, and Nutrition Is the Hallmark of Quality P.E. Programs

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The New P.E: Preparing Students to Make Healthy Decisions about Physical Activity, Health, and Nutrition Is the Hallmark of Quality P.E. Programs

Article excerpt

Janelle never liked P.E. much. She was overweight, had a hard time moving, and was extremely self-conscious. Janelle's goal in P.E. was to stay under the radar, not get noticed, and put in the minimum effort necessary to pass and get out. In elementary school, dressing for class and showing up had been sufficient to accomplish this goal.

But, Marana Middle School in Tucson, Ariz., was different. Marana's P.E. teachers wanted students to do more than just show up. They wanted Janelle to move, run, choose activities, and then participate fully in the choices she made.

At first, Janelle resisted. She was surprised to learn that swimming was not just sitting by the pool. During running, she thought she could just not try and accept a low grade. But teachers challenged her in positive ways, encouraging her to strive for her personal best. Finally, she had a breakthrough. With her teacher by her side, Janelle ran before school because she was too embarrassed to run in front of classmates. Her teacher refused to accept her usual lack of effort, encouraging her with each step and each breath to keep moving. Janelle finished her run not just within the required time but two minutes under the minimum accepted time. She saw that she was capable of more and began giving greater effort toward her physical fitness both in and out of class. Her hard work paid off in more energy, confidence, and vitality. She signed up to take P.E. again the next semester as an elective. Three years later, Janelle's mom still speaks of this program's effect on her daughter as they continue to exercise regularly together. "She's doing really great now," says Janelle's mother. "We are working out together." Janelle did lose weight, but more importantly, she gained confidence and committed to exercising for the long term.

Janelle's success is neither unique nor the result of chance. Instead, it is the intentional outcome of a program at Marana that is built around supporting the healthy decision making of all students.

This massive shift and programmatic change occurred in an ordinary middle school with a very traditional sports-based P.E. program, and it influenced changes in the broader community. Marana's 7th and 8th graders are staying active and helping the community by walking dogs at the animal shelter, doing yard work at retirement homes, painting homes for the elderly, cleaning up the local community, and participating in various fund-raising walks and runs for causes meaningful to them. These students are influencing the healthy decision making of others by combining their knowledge of physical fitness with their commitment to community service.

Changes at the 1,000-student school in the Marana Unified School District are part of a national effort to transform physical education classes from courses designed for jocks into courses intended to encourage physical activity for all participants. The national standards from National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) reflect the change in direction that quality physical education programs should take. These standards emphasize lifetime fitness and activity, and students are expected to "participate regularly in physical activity" (Standard 3) and to "achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical fitness" (Standard 4). The standards go so far as to task P.E. programs with graduating students who "value physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and/or social interaction" (Standard 6). Furthermore, students are expected to "exhibit responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others in physical activity settings" (Standard 5).

Marana's changes were sparked by conversations between Tucson high school science teacher Amy Corner and middle school principal Allison Murphy, who met regularly for fitness walks. Their concerns about the lack of fitness among their students and local residents eventually led to more formal discussions and meetings. …

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