District 203 Wrestles with Gym Waiver Board Faces Opposition to Cutting Back Physical Education Classes
Johnson, Deborah, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Deborah Johnson Daily Herald Staff Writer
When Katie Johnson's English teacher asked her to write an essay about something that changed her life, the Naperville Central High School student thought back to her junior high days.
That was where Katie, who struggled with asthma and never had gone out for sports, learned the importance of daily exercise.
In her essay, titled "The Run," Katie recounted the apprehension she felt when she learned she would have to run "the mile" every week as part of her junior high physical education class.
The first time, Katie said, it was awful. She was the last one to finish and thought her lungs were going to burst.
But every week Katie grew stronger and stronger until by the time she moved to high school, she was ready to try out for track and softball. Not only that, she was getting sick a whole lot less.
"I credit playing softball and doing sports to those teachers at Madison Junior High," Katie said. "Now that I was exposed to (exercise), it's become a part of my life. I try to get exercise every day."
Katie's essay, which has been reprinted in professional teacher periodicals, is more than a story of how one girl used running to overcome an asthma problem. To many, it illustrates how physical education can make an impact on the quality of someone's life.
Katie's mother, Jennie, a nurse at Edward Hospital in Naperville, brought her daughter's story to a public hearing this week in Naperville Unit District 203. She is concerned about a school board proposal that may jeopardize a student's ability to get daily exercise.
Although Illinois requires schools to offer physical education every day to all students, a new law allows districts to seek waivers to various parts of the school code, including the state's physical education requirement.
District 203 is considering asking for a waiver to reduce the amount of time junior high students spend in gym classes. Officials want permission to use six weeks of the students' physical education time to teach a new health curriculum - something they've been doing without a waiver for the past 1 1/2 years.
The district is not alone. Physical education waivers are the most commonly sought waiver in the state under the new legislation, according to Lee Milner, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.
Milner said many districts feel they don't have the space or the time to offer a daily dose of physical activity.
Madison teacher Phil Lawler, coordinator of District 203's physical education program, is worried. …