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The state of P.E. in Elgin-area schools

Students stretch across gymnasium floor Thursday during physical educaticlass Dundee-Crown High School Carpentersville.  Physical educaticlasses have changed over years

Students stretch across the gymnasium floor Thursday during physical education class at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. Physical education classes have changed over the years by becoming more fitness oriented. November 29, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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On Thursday morning, dozens of people jogged around the track or played basketball or soccer in small groups. Upstairs, some lifted in the weight room, while others danced to a Zumba video projected above the springy floor of the wrestling room.

It looked like the scene at a pricy health club. But actually it was a CV day in physical education class in the field house at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, when twice a week students get to choose from five different physical activities for their class period.

That comes as physical education, or P.E. classes have “changed immensely, even compared to 10 years ago when I was in high school,” according to Andy Lambert, a P.E. and drivers ed teacher at Dundee-Crown.

“We are primarily fitness-based. Everything we do is geared around how can we help our students improve their fitness levels,” Lambert said.

And it comes as the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association released the 2012 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA last month.

The Shape of the Nation found 74.5 percent of states require P.E, in elementary through high school.

But, it said, most don’t require a specific amount of instructional time and nearly half allow exemptions, waivers and substitutions. And those “loopholes” can reduce the effectiveness of those requirements, it said.

“The fact that kids are being deprived of physical education in school is unacceptable, especially in a nation suffering from a childhood obesity epidemic,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a written statement.

“Making physical activity a part of the daily routine is critical to saving the next generation of Americans from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious problems.”

Illinois is one of only six states that require P.E. in every grade from kindergarten to grade 12, according to the report. It also is one of those states that doesn’t require a specific amount of time spent on the subject and that allows exemptions to that rule.

But educators in area school districts point to new programming, like the CV days and Fitnessgram assessments introduced this year at Dundee-Crown, as signs of the quality of physical education in their schools.

District requirements

In the Shape of the Nation, NASPE and the American Heart Association recommend schools provide 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day, of P.E. for elementary school children. It also recommends 225 minutes a week, or 45 minutes a day, for middle and high school students for the entire school year.

Currently, no states follow these nationally recommended guidelines at all levels, according to the report.

In Elgin School District U46, the school code is simply: “Physical education shall be taught in all grades and shall include a developmentally planned and sequential curriculum that fosters the development of movement skills, enhances health-related fitness, and encourages healthy habits.”

In addition, high school graduation requirements in the Elgin district require three-and-a-half years of P.E.

Those high school students can be exempted if they are enrolled for credit in marching band or use that time instead to receive special education support and services, according to school code. Juniors and seniors also can be excused if they participate in sports or if P.E. class would conflict with classes required for admission to an institute of higher learning or graduation requirements, it said.

At Kimball Middle School in Elgin, P.E. is about 43 minutes a day, every day, except for six to nine weeks when students instead take health classes, according to Assistant Principal Kerry Sund.

And, Sund said, that’s not just, “roll out the ball, and, here, have pickup games.”

This past week, P.E. teacher Shane Kottkamp said students had a 12-minute run around the gym on Wednesday and wrote an essay about what they are doing to improve their cardiovascular health on Tuesday. Kimball also has a weight room that is open before school for students, and Kottkamp said proudly last year one 125-pound eighth-grader he worked with could bench 160 pounds.

In nearby Community Unit School District 300, graduation requirements also require three-and-a-half years of P.E. according to Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for High Schools Ben Churchill.

At middle schools in the Carpentersville-based district, P.E. also is required three quarters out of four, with the fourth spent on health classes, according to Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for Middle Schools Kara Vicente.

But elementary schools require just one hour a week, according to Lambert. He recently started working with grades four and five at Golfview Elementary School in Carpentersville, Sleepy Hollow Elementary School and Westfield Community School in Algonquin, as well as Good Shepherd Hospital to pilot a program called CATCH that combines what’s done in P.E. and health classes, as well as what’s in the cafeteria.

He’d also like to see physical activity extended to other classrooms outside the gym, something he’s experimented with his driver’s ed classes, taking them for “Socratic walks” around the school while they talk and pulling up balance balls instead of desk chairs. And he has plans to get kids breakfast and 20 minutes of walking between the time they step off the school bus and start standardized testing this spring, he said.

Fitnessgram, choice days

After observing programs at four or five different high schools, Lambert already has started transforming what P.E. looks like at Dundee-Crown with District 300’s move this year to an eight-period school day, which means P.E. every day.

That includes a Web-based program called Fitnessgram that measures and compares nationwide students’ fitness at the start and end of each semester, including pushups, situps, the sit-and-reach and body fat and cardiovascular tests. He also created a rubric to score students’ fitness as achieving, advancing, progressing or emerging.

And the Charger Fitness Card, which students hand in to teachers manning activities they want to participate in on CV days, he said. They get credit from those teachers for the activities they fully participate in — worth 40 percent of their grades, he said.

“We felt that by giving kids choice, they’re going to have more motivation to participate. By not focusing in on skill development during these times, kids just will be active — they’ll run around and get their heart rates up,” Lambert said.

They’ve also taken away most excuses students have for not participating by tightening up the school’s waiver requirements and lending out school uniforms. The result is the school has gone from about 20 students not participating in each P.E. class to four or five.

“We want to change people’s opinion,” he said.

“We want to get kids excited about physical activity. It’s not just running in a circle. It’s not just tossing a basketball. There are so many things you can do.”

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