Meeting Recommendations for Physical Education in Schools
JUNE 30, 2018 — Alaska parents may think their children get a physical education class as often as they did growing up. In 2017, however, only 1 out of 5 Alaska high school students attended daily physical education classes.
Physical education (PE) provides a number of benefits to children. It increases their physical activity, can improve their grades and test scores, and builds a foundation for lifelong physical fitness habits. The recommendation is for elementary schools to provide 150 minutes of physical education each week during the school year, but not all schools in Alaska provide that much. Some Alaska schools are making regular physical education classes a priority and seeing the benefits.
The teachers and principal at Seward Elementary School had been investigating strategies to improve student learning and behavior at school. This lead them to research that showed children tend to do better academically when they are active in physical education classes and recess. This activity—inside and outside the gym—also can improve children’s behavior.
The whole school worked together to create a new class schedule that allowed all students in grade 3–5 to get 30 minutes of physical education class, all five days of the school week. To do this, school staff had to change how they served lunch. School staff agreed that students would eat lunch in their classrooms so the gym was open for more PE classes all day.
This helped Seward Elementary meet the recommendations for physical education during the school week. When you add in morning and lunch recess time, many of Seward’s children also are getting the recommended 60 minutes of play every day for the best health.
Physical education teacher Mark Fraad and other Seward Elementary teachers also offer five after-school activities each year: cross country running, soccer, basketball, volleyball and cross country skiing. When classrooms achieve a goal, they ask for an extra PE time instead of treats or food-related parties.
"We're offering a healthy alternative to the pizza party," Fraad said.
School staff noticed improved student performance and behavior after adding more physical education time. During the school year following the addition of PE classes, the percent of students skilled in math and reading increased in grades 3–5.
"Physical activity improves academics and behavior," Fraad said.
Petersburg School District — Providing children with the recommended amount of physical education each week
When looking at schools across Alaska, Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg rises to the top for the high number of minutes of physical education and activity that students get every day.
Ginger Evens, teacher and wellness team member for the Petersburg School District, said students in grades K-5 at Stedman alternate between a week of gym class and a week of swimming lessons throughout the school year. Students have 40 minutes of physical education each day Monday through Thursday, along with a minimum of 20 minutes of recess each day before lunch. On Fridays, all students have 20 minutes of recess before lunch. Fridays at Stedman Elementary include exploratory classes, when students can be physically active playing musical instruments, participating in health activities, and doing other activities.
Students at Stedman also are active after school, participating in the Girls on the Run program, Viking Swim Club, Mitkof Dance Troupe, Petersburg Parks and Recreation basketball, Petersburg Little League, and other physical activity opportunities in the community.
"Petersburg School District students are fortunate that the staff, administration, school board, and community members support the district's physical education programs, along with the physical activity programs," Evens said. "These programs have been sustained even as the budget gets tighter and tighter, as we value the positive outcomes of physical education/activity and academic success."
This is what Alaska communities are doing to help kids grow up healthy. What can your community do? Click here to find more ideas to provide healthy foods, drinks and physical activity for kids.
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