The importance and benefits of being physically active are well known. Active people tend to be healthier, live longer, and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The foundation for a physically active lifestyle is laid in childhood. And because children spend so much time in school, schools provide the perfect environment and offer a unique opportunity to get kids “moving” in the right direction.
Meaningful, high-quality physical education (PE) is one of the best ways to increase the chances that our young people will live healthier, more productive lives. And there is an abundance of research indicating that physical activity and fitness can benefit both health and academic performance in children.
Some of the obvious benefits of PE are that it promotes fitness and weight control. It has also been shown to:
Increase muscular strength, bone health, and cardiovascular endurance
Help develop good motor skills and greater flexibility
Positively impact brain health
Not only does high-quality PE increase the chances that young people will live healthier, more productive lives, it also pays off in the classroom. Physically-active and aerobically-fit children consistently outperform their inactive, unfit peers academically. The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus of physically fit children are also better developed than those of less fit children. These areas control many of the abilities that lead to high academic achievement, long-term memory, and self-regulation.
PE increases heart rate and blood flow to the brain, enhancing “executive function.” Improved math, reading, and language skills have been seen in students who participate in programs that increased their physical activity up to an hour a day. And the biggest improvements were seen when a trained PE teacher led the session, and in small groups, during the early or middle part of the school day.
Despite all the positive benefits on health outcomes and school achievement, unfortunately, there has been a de-emphasis on PE at many schools, including private ones. Budget cuts and a desire to focus on “core academic subjects” and on improving standardized test scores have moved many PE programs into a “non-essential” status, many slipping to the bottom of the curriculum ladder. As a result, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), almost 25% of schools do not require student participation in PE at all.
The Physical Education Program at JCDS has been meeting and, in some cases, exceeding the national recommendations from the AHA and the Society of Health and Physical Educators for the past five decades! These standards, calling for 150 minutes of PE per week in elementary school, surprisingly are met only by the Oregon and the District of Columbia systems.
PE at JCDS stands out in many ways on many levels. The most striking difference is that all grades (K-6) have 30 minutes of physical education every day. “I’ve been at a number of other schools. When I came here I was blown away to learn that we see every child, every day. More typically, PE is once or twice, maybe at best three times, a week. Our kids have it every day. The amount of physical activity they get on a daily basis, paired with recess, equals an hour of physical activity outside the classroom. They get to do so much and learn so much,” Doug Postell, the most senior PE teacher on staff, said.
In addition to Doug, there are two other Certified Physical Education Teachers on staff at JCDS: Kamryn Sherman and Leif Noren. Coach Noren noted, “Our school is really unique because there are three of us here. Most schools have one, maybe two PE instructors if they’re lucky. But here, with smaller groups, we really get to know our kids, assess how they’re progressing and determine what they will need moving forward. As a result, we are able to differentiate our programs and activities, based on skill sets and what is developmentally appropriate.”
Something else that sets JCDS apart from other school’s PE programs is the facilities. As Coach Postell put it, “There aren’t too many elementary schools that have a large swimming pool and where the kids can swim 10 weeks out of the year. And we have a spacious, modern gym, which is great, especially on rainy days. There is plenty of room for any and all activities when the kids can’t be outside for PE or recess.”
Character education is also incorporated into the program. “Building good, solid, responsible student-athletes is the goal," Coach Sherman said. "Many of our kids may not become star performers in a given sport but they are learning how to excel in other areas like sportsmanship, goal setting, and patience. We bring attention to the importance of teamwork, how to be inclusive and collaborate with others . . . and how to win or lose with grace. .”
Being active during the formative years has a major and positive impact on the quality of one’s life. The high-quality PE program at JCDS has significant, wide-ranging benefits for students and it is in excellent shape!Click here
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