Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Changing Reality

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Changing Reality

Article excerpt

A park and recreation professional reinvents physical education in a Utah public school

In Salt Lake City, Utah, Larry Madden, principal of the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE), a grades 6-12 Title I charter school with a multicultural student population, took a leap of faith. With the support of his superintendent, and inspired by his own daughter's disdain for gym class (while loving hiking), he hired Cavett Eaton, a park and recreation professional, to reinvent the school's physical education program.

Upon his hiring, and while securing his Alternative Route to Licensure as a Utah public school teacher, Eaton wasted little time in creating a healthy lifestyle and outdoor adventure curriculum as a stand-in for the traditional physical education program. While still meeting the Common Core state standards, he cut back the time and attention given to traditional sport-skill instruction and focused instead on the development of lifelong recreational pursuits characterized by team- and character-building. In five years, Eaton has created a working bike shop, secured a small fleet of kayaks, installed indoor high- and low-rope climbing elements, and purchased a used van for field trips. SLCSE students - capped at a maximum of 400 because of building size - have learned new and lifelong recreational activities that will serve them well beyond their years in the public school system.

A visitor to the school would likely be surprised and impressed with the way Eaton has reconfigured the space Madden allotted him. Much of it is taken up by a bicycle repair shop, where students learn how to maintain bikes as well as fix them when they break down. There are close to 100 bicycles in the shop that are used on a regular basis. A stationary bike powers a blender that makes healthy fruit smoothies, while also being affixed to the school's bee hive for honey making. The boys' locker room is full of kayaks and canoes, and the girls' locker room is full of tents and sleeping bags. The gymnasium includes a ropes course and a climbing wall is well under construction. The school's courtyard provides a safe haven for students to try out their newly acquired camping skills in preparation for multiday trips to Rio Mesa, a recently developed outdoor education center near Moab, five hours away from the hubbub of Salt Lake City. There is no shortage of parents who want to come along on the day or overnight field trips. Other SLCSE teachers, interested in Eaton's program, are always willing to work with him to make crosscurricular connections, such as incorporating physics, geometry or biology lessons into an adventure outing. Equipment, which can be an expensive component of outdoor recreation programs, is often donated by companies looking to offload last year's models or from local nonprofit agencies or community members.

Although Eaton's adventure-based physical education curriculum is only a few years old, Principal Madden believes the benefits are manifold:

1 There is a powerful cultural impact in taking students away from the brick and mortar of a public school building and putting them in an unfamiliar environment (nature) where they have to work together as a team to overcome new challenges. The outing has a leveling effect. The students return to the classroom more willing to help and rely on one another to solve problems in the same way they learned to help and rely on one another in meeting challenges in the out-of-doors.

2 Developing lifelong recreational interests in the context of physical education just makes good sense. …

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