Factors Influencing the Performance of Volunteers Who Provide Physical Activity in Middle Schools. (Research Papers)

By Strelow, Jamie S.; Larsen, Judith S. et al. | Journal of School Health, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Factors Influencing the Performance of Volunteers Who Provide Physical Activity in Middle Schools. (Research Papers)


Strelow, Jamie S., Larsen, Judith S., Sallis, James F., Conway, Terry L., Powers, Holly S., McKenzie, Thomas L., Journal of School Health


Young people are not meeting the physical activity levels recommended for health, (1-3) thereby increasing associated risks such as obesity. (4,5) Physical activity levels decline during adolescence (6) with more than one-third (35%) of high school students not participating regularly in vigorous physical activity. (7)

Physical education allows adolescents to participate in physical activity, but only 6.4% of middle/junior high schools provide daily physical education for the entire school year for students in all grades. (8) One-fourth (25.3%) of middle/junior high schools exempt students from required physical education. (8) Slightly more than one-third (37.9%) of all middle/junior and senior high schools provided opportunities for students to receive 30 minutes of physical activity each day. (8) One study of middle schools found that extracurricular programs attracted only 5.5% of a school's daily attendance. (9) Approximately 38 million young people participate in youth sport programs, but attrition is high and attrition peaks with 14-15-year-olds. (10) Thus, it is important to identify additional opportunities for young people to be active throughout their day. In this study, researchers explored the possibility of recruiting volunteers to assist in providing increased physical activity at middle schools.

Effectiveness of school health interventions during leisure time periods have been limited in scope because research has focused on changes in physical education and health curricula. This study investigated opportunities for improving physical activity before school, after lunch, and after school at middle schools by using community volunteers.

Barriers exist to promoting physical activity in schools outside of physical education class, including accessibility to physical activity facilities, available equipment, and entry fees for activity clubs and leagues. Middle school teachers also have limited time to supervise physical activity, and many school districts have limited finances for extracurricular physical activities, except for some interscholastic sport teams.

Ecological models of behavior focus attention on environmental approaches to increasing physical activity in schools. (1,11) One study showed environmental characteristics such as presence of equipment, supervision, and quality of play areas accounted for large proportions of variance in student physical activity on 24 middle school campuses. (12) Physical activity areas in these schools were assessed for area, type, size, and improvements. Student physical activity and the presence of equipment and supervision before school, after lunch, and after school were directly observed. School environments with high levels of supervision stimulated girls and boys to be more physically active. (12) Thus, providing additional adult supervision and equipment may be effective at increasing physical activity on campuses.

When schools are unable or unwilling to assign teachers to supervise physical activity, the recruitment of volunteers from the community may provide a viable alternative. Volunteers cannot replace certified professionals, but with training and supervision they offer an effective means for increasing activity opportunities in schools.

Merrill and Safrit (13) observed that volunteerism implies active involvement that is not coerced, does not rely on financial gain as a primary motivator, and focuses on work for the common good. A national survey indicated 56% (93 million) of people in the United States have volunteered, and females volunteer more often than males. (14) Data on use of volunteers to promote health-related physical activity opportunities have not been reported. This paper describes the performance of community volunteers in their supervision of physical activity in middle schools.

METHODS

The M-SPAN (Middle School Physical Activity and Nutrition) study was a randomized field trial to assess school environment and policy changes to improve student physical activity and eating behaviors in middle schools. …

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