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Famous people of influence have been saying it for centuries: physical education is key

Colorado parents need to take a more active role in these so called education reforms occurring in our schools. Last November, Colorado failed to pass Amendment 66, which was supposed to put nearly a billion dollars directly into our classrooms, bypassing the school administrators. Supporters even provided commercials stating we could bring “gym class” back for a mere $133 a year per household!

Quality “physical education” is a valuable content area which educates our children on the concepts required to live an active and healthy lifestyle. This is Colorado! Go outside and go for a walk! Henry David Thoreau said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow.” President Thomas Jefferson said, “Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”

In 2004, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation found that 92 percent of parents consider P.E. and health as important as English, math and science. Although core content areas are expected to provide evidence of student growth, due to local control issues or values, Colorado does not assess nor evaluate physical education programs. Many school administrators expect physical education teachers to demonstrate growth in math and literacy rather than physical education content.

President Harry S. Truman said, “We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the nation.” According to the CDC and Health Policy Solutions, Colorado’s childhood obesity rates have increased by the second fastest rate at 23 percent in three years. One could assume this is due to Colorado having one of the least funded education systems in the country and the influx of education reforms, which focus on the “core” content areas in order to achieve higher scores on state assessments.

President John F. Kennedy stated, “Intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong.” Colorado is one of only two states in the country that does not require any physical education from kindergarten to 12th grade. High school graduation requirements in Colorado vary from ZERO to three credits, with the average being one and a half credits.

Plato said, “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” What type of physical education program did you have in high school? There are basically two types of a secondary physical education program in our schools: “new school” and “old school.”

“New school” physical education programs are standards-based and include lifetime fitness and active and healthy lifestyle. These programs include a large variety of mainly individual fitness/sport type activities, where students benefit from the knowledge and concepts to participate for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, there are very few “new school” physical education programs in Colorado that offer a comprehensive variety of activities due to funding and lack of priority.

“Old school” physical education programs include very large class sizes that include: roll out the ball (weight), athletic centric, power lifting, and represent what many adults had when they were growing up. Team sport skill development is the featured goal of an “old school” program. But how much do baby-boomers bench press these days? When less than three percent of high school athletes continue to play their sport after they graduate, and only three in ten thousand high school boys’ basketball players actually get drafted to play professionally, why are team sports still the focus of many of the secondary physical education programs across the country? In short, these “gym” classes with fifty to seventy students in them are easier to manage. All a student has to do is show up appropriately dressed and simply participate without causing problems.

President Thomas Jefferson said, “Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.” One of the most alarming trends occurring around the nation is the practice of waiving or exempting students from physical education because they are in some other EXTRA curricular activity; they do not take into account the actual content being taught or the physical and mental benefits provided through brain research in a quality physical education class. Don’t get me wrong, extracurricular activities are very important and teach some important concepts that assist with the education of the whole child, but they are extra. Colorado also allows for extracurricular coaches to be hired without any kind of teaching certification. They may have gained their experience playing the particular sport they are hired to coach but are not provided with the professional development required for quality physical education.

Physical education was created in order to develop our young men for military service. President John F. Kennedy said, “A country is as strong as its citizens, and I think mental and physical health, mental and physical vigor go hand in hand.” It was President Kennedy that renamed the President’s Council for Physical Fitness to include ALL Americans. Currently, 75 percent of high school students that would like to enter a career in a service profession do not qualify physically and military and policy academies are forced to reduce the physical requirements because of this.

As far back as 300 BC, Herophilis said, “When health is absent, Wisdom cannot reveal itself, Art cannot become manifest, Strength cannot be executed, Wealth is useless, and Reason is powerless.” Colorado’s school children are in school for seven hours a day; with all this knowledge and the resources available, shouldn’t our schools assist students by teaching them how to live a healthy lifestyle?

Parents: if you would like for your children to develop healthy lifestyle habits, you should ask the important questions around how these habits are being developed in their school. If more parents would ask the important questions concerning their priorities for their children, then our local control school administrators, school boards and legislators would have to focus on improving the system towards educating the whole child.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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