If you’re a third grader at Seward Elementary, you will have physical education class on Monday.
You’ll have it on Tuesday, too. And again Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
In fact, by the end of the week, all students in grades 3 to 5 at Seward’s only elementary school will have 30 minutes of PE, five days a week, meeting the recommended 150 weekly minutes of PE for elementary-age children. When you add in the morning and lunch recess time, Seward’s children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity for good health – all before they leave school at the end of the day.
That makes Seward a standout school for the amount of PE and activity children get every day. Seward Elementary has only one PE teacher for the whole school – Mark Fraad. So how does one teacher provide PE instruction to hundreds of kids every day of the week? Fraad explained how the whole school worked together during the 2005-06 school year to make PE a priority.
Back then, Seward Elementary offered only two or three PE classes a week, each 30 minutes long, for students in all grades. That is still the case for grades K-2, but the staff wanted to offer daily PE to grades 3-5.
Fraad said the teachers and Principal David Kingsland – who remains the principal today –looked at research showing that children do better academically when they are active in structured (PE classes) and unstructured (recess) ways and that their behavior improves, too.
The school’s staff knew they wanted to give the older children more PE time each week, so they asked themselves what they could change to make that happen.
Fraad said they agreed to compromises. School staff moved lunch into the classrooms to free up the gym for one or two more PE periods each day. Fraad took on more PE classes daily, too, and now teaches 10 to 11 thirty-minute PE periods a day.
“Our gym is always full,” he said. “We always have kids moving.”
Other teachers got involved, too, taking kids out for extra recess when possible. When Fraad has funds to buy additional physical activity equipment, he looks for what he calls “Take 10” equipment – anything you can use when you have just 10 minutes to be active in class. Every bit of activity counts. Fraad and other Seward Elementary teachers also offer five after-school intramural activities each year – cross country running, soccer, basketball, volleyball and cross country skiing. When classrooms achieve a goal, they ask for an extra PE class instead of treats.
“We’re offering a healthy alternative to the pizza party,” Fraad said.
Fraad said school staff noticed improved student performance immediately after adding more PE time.
During the school year following the addition of PE classes, the percent of students proficient in math skills increased in grades 3-6 (Seward Elementary taught preschool through sixth grade until last year, when sixth grade moved to the middle school). The percent of students proficient in reading skills also increased in grades 3 and 5.
“We believe incorporating PE every day was a contributing factor in bringing our school’s percent proficient up and keeping it at that high level in the subsequent years,” said David Kingsland, who has been principal at Seward Elementary for the past 15 years.
Fraad said not all schools will be able to make the same changes Seward Elementary did to add more PE and activity to their students’ days. Every school has challenges to overcome to add physical activity, but he said there may be compromises that would add more recess or PE time. It’s paid off for Seward’s kids, Fraad said, helping them stay in shape physically and scholastically.
“Physical activity improves academics,” he said. “It improves kids’ behavior.”
Photo features PE teacher Mark Fraad of Seward Elementary juggling with work and play.