Physical Education Programs in Schools in San Diego

Beefy. Blimp. Blimpoid. Blob. Blubber. Blubberball. Butterball. Chubby. Chubster. Fat Blob. Fatso. Fatty. Fluff Ball. Heavyset.
Lardo. Lard-assed. Obese. Overweight. Piggy. Plump. Roly-poly. Rotund. Tub of Lard. Tubby. Whale. Wide load.

I was a fat kid. Ok, I was obese, and called most of the above, and some I won’t repeat. I was also uncoordinated, missed the ball, tripped and fell a lot. Some kids just laughed. Others were “nicer”, and looked awayâÂ?¦Then there were the bulliesâÂ?¦the ones who made a game of picking on the fat kid. Even a few teachers joined in to make an example of what-and who-not to be.

Needless to say, I hated P.E. The other kids didn’t want me on their teams, and were very vocal about it. Some would even purposely slam balls into or trip me so that I’d be “out” of the game.

Even when I “got skinny” thanks to anorexia, depression, and other teenage psychopathologies (which included being “boy crazy”), I still hated P.E. I was uncoordinated, afraid of engaging in activities involving fast-moving balls, hurdles, and other stunts that involved throwing my self into thin air. Gymnastic feats invoked vertigo, enhanced my fear of heights and being out-of-control. I can remember being told by one high school coach that if I didn’t try to do the poll vault, she’d flunk me. I tried, cracked my tail bone, and spent the rest of the semester on crutches. By the time I was a senior in high school, the coaches realized I wasn’t kidding, and had me just run laps during P.E.

While P.E. was a major drag, outside of school, I took long walks, swam in the ocean, an occasional pool, rode my bike, and did yoga. Did P.E. prepare me for any of these activities? No.

That said, it is ironic that many years later, the memories still vivid in my mind, that I should be arguing “for” rather than “against” P.E. Or am I? I’ll let you make up your own mind on that, because to be honest, there’s a part of me that first screamed, “yahoo!”, when I learned that P.E. wasn’t a regular part of the K-12 curriculum. Since I now have an elementary-school-aged daughter, I thought of all the horrors she wouldn’t have to endure.

My daughter, though, is nothing like I was as a childâÂ?¦She’s always been strong, muscular, coordinated, and has a great sense of balance and spatial perception. She doesn’t simply “like” P.E.-she LOVES it – and the other kids “always” want her to play with them.

It’s not only that P.E. is being downsized, but WHY it’s being downsized that matters, isn’t it?

The San Diego Unified School District’s Administrative Procedures for K-12 Physical Education under the category of “Instruction, Curriculum Design, No. 4179 was updated recently on April 21, 2006. In “General Section” C. 2., “Instructional Minutes”, it states that “Physical education is an integral part of the educational program for all students. Students shall have physical education every year in grades K-9, with one additional year required in high school for graduation” (http://www.sandi.net/policy/pdf/pp4179.pdf). In Section 2.a. it states that “Students in grades 1-6 shall have a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education each 10 school days, exclusive of lunchtime, recess and voluntary activity programs (Education Code Section 51210 [g])” (http://www.sandi.net/policy/pdf/pp4179.pdf).

Under Section C. 7, “Physical Education Course Content”, it states that:

Physical education and outside school activities should promote a minimum of 60 minutes of activity: 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity and 40 minutes of moderate physical activity. When students master the course content and develop the skills, they will be well equipped to lead a physically active and healthy lifestyle. (http://www.sandi.net/policy/pdf/pp4179.pdf)

No doubt you are wondering about the course content and specific skills. In Section C. 7. a., they outline the following: “During the course of grades K-12 education, students shall be offered a sequential, developmentally appropriate curriculum to help them acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and confidence needed to adopt and maintain a physically active and healthy lifestyle” (http://www.sandi.net/policy/pdf/pp4179.pdf).

In Section C.7.b., they continue, offering some additional material:

The California State Physical Education Content Standards represent an integral part of the educational program for all students. They guide students regarding how their bodies move, how to perform a variety of physical activities, the health-related benefits of regular physical activity, and specific skills that will allow them to adopt a physically active and healthy lifestyle. They also provide learning experiences that meet the developmental needs of students. With effective physical education, students become confident, independent, self-controlled and resilient; develop positive social skills; learn to set and strive for personal, achievable goals; learn to assume leadership, co-operate with others and accept responsibility for their own behavior; and improve their academic performance. (http://www.sandi.net/policy/pdf/pp4179.pdf).

I’m still not seeing any specifics. Do they play tether ball? Volley ball? Four-square? Run laps or rely races? Do stretches, sit-ups, push-ups, and jumping jacks? Furthermore, the above is an ideal. Propaganda 101 uses verbs like “will” and “allow”. There is no guarantee that the students will “become confident” or “develop positive social skills”, or “co-operate with others and accept responsibility for their own behavior”. It would be a good thing, though, wouldn’t it?

For grades K-6, I believe this translates to approximately 20 minutes per day. Why then, when I’ve spoken to a variety of K-6 teachers, K-6 teacher-trainers, and K-6 teachers-in-training, am I told that children in grades K-6 usually receive P.E. for 45 minutes per week, if that? There’s a great disparity between the official versus the actual word here. One teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said that it’s taught once a month for 45 minutes at their school. I am also given to understand that some schools have a choice of P.E., art or music once a month for 45 minutes. If I understood my source correctly, depending upon the principal, the teacher may choose to alternate these in three-month cycles or choose one in lieu of the others. Sometimes those choices are determined ahead of time for the school year-and with no deviation. (You won’t read this on the district website, thoughâÂ?¦)

My daughter, who is in the 4th grade at Webster Academy of Science and Research says that they don’t get enough P.E. They just started volley ball, though, and she loves it. She, however, knows how to play nice with others, and wishes the other kids would “get along better”. Last fall, they had a celebrity football player come to their school to encourage them to be fit. This was, I believe, a voluntary program. Students would attend his “lectures”, watch his video at home, make short and long-term goals, keep a journal, exercise every day, and then fill out a “report” at the end. My daughter loved it-and the bright red T-shirt she received after completing her contract.

Why don’t we have more of this? I find it ironic, given our governor being a former athlete. . .

I’ve spoken to a few parents (schools vary) who have indicated that P.E. is often withdrawn as a punishment for a variety of infractions. While these may range from not standing in line properly or not staying in their seat to hitting other kids, etc., depending upon the misbehavior, I would think that P.E. is just what they need!

Other parents have suggested (okay, and a few teachers told me this point-blank), that P.E. is on the backburner due to those pesky standardized tests.
What I’d like to know is which coaches, pep squads or team captains came up with this brilliant play?

Talk about being on the losing team�

Much of the talk about town (as well as local, state, and national “news” coverage) has included the outcry: how can they cut back P.E. and recess when so many of our children suffer from obesity? Apparently, these cuts are not recent; it’s just that we’re reading more about them now.

If you’re thinking that the school breakfasts and lunches need a “trimming” (i.e., consider all those restaurants and fast-food joints who have partnered with our schoolsâÂ?¦), then you might want to look into the Kids Choice Cafes. Apparently, the trash receptacles are no longer over-flowing with items from the daily menuâÂ?¦My daughter has never cared much for school lunches, though-even when she sort of ate them so that she could spend time with her friends in the cafeteria. While she now eats lunch at school regularly, and it appears from her responses to my “what did you have for lunch today?”, they’re still not all that appetizing-or particularly health-conscious in my schema. Sometimes, she comes home from school hungry, because “nothing looked good but the canned pineapple”. I could send her to school with a sack lunch, but she wants to eat with her friends. . .

I’m not around to check the trash now that my daughter is bussed to a Magnet School. I do know that the kids are encouraged to eat. But some probably eat more-or less-than others. How can this be monitored? Are the schools even slightly responsible for ensuring that their students-our children-even eat at all? They’re certainly not responsible for what children eat at home, are they? That’s the parents’ job, isn’t it?

While it doesn’t appear that children are going to “get-or remain – fat” if they eat breakfast and lunch at school, neither does it appear that they are going to become “marshmallows” if there’s no-or minimal-P.E. and recess. However, when you consider the “fact” that children spend approximately thirty-five hours per week at school, or five-to-seven hours of a 24-hour-day at school, this is definitely the place where habits can be created, enforced, thwarted, and/or resisted.

Just in case you’re feeling the urge to storm into your child’s principal’s office, I suggest you cruise on over to the “parents” section of the district website. Read the other sections, too-the ones for faculty and employees. Then, have a “nice chat” with your principal, your child’s teacher, etc. During this process, take copious notes, then flood your local and state representatives’ offices with letters. That’s rightâÂ?¦while superintendents, school boards, principals and yes, teachers, “all” contribute to district policy and how it is implemented, much of this happens on the state (and in some cases, national) level through mandates. As a parent, isn’t it up to you to vote and engage in other lobbying activities in order to effect change?

If you want to “trim the fat” from schools, perhaps the place to do it is NOT P.E. or recess, but the time spent with standardized test preparations. Do you think “teaching to the test” exercises build mental muscle? Or, do they turn the mind to mush? Whatever happened to the critical thinking movement? Oh yeah, it was just a political ploy like the “no child left behind act.”

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