Broward and Palm Beach counties skimp on physical education

Scott Travis of  the South Florida Sun-Sentinel  reports that some Florida schools are not meeting the state requirement for 30 minutes of physical education each day. Although a law passed in 2007 requires 30 minutes of P.E. instruction every day, schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties only offer traditional gym classes once or twice a week.

The law, signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007, initially required elementary schools to provide 150 minutes of P.E. per week. But some schools tried to get around it by counting three-minute walks to the cafeteria or classroom toward the total. The next year, the Legislature changed the requirement to 30 minutes of continuous physical activity each day.

Travis reported that at  Nob Hill Elementary in Sunrise, regular classroom teachers handle the half-hour P.E. instruction once a week, then on the other days they are supposed to take the students out for recess. He noted that Roseanne Eckert complained to the principal that her son was not getting the required 150 minutes of activity per week.

Nob Hill Principal Patricia Patterson said that was an isolated case and most teachers welcome the opportunity to take their students out for recess.

“Am I the P.E. police? No,” she said. “They’re professionals, and I trust that they’re following the standards and implementing organized games.”


Professional Learning Communities do not need to resort to early dismissals of students

Are Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) part of a nationwide scheme to justify early dismissals of students? That is the question I wondered when I noticed how many school districts were justifying early dismissals by saying they were promoting PLCs.

Checking the website of  the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement,  I found that early dismissals were the very last choice listed as a means of scheduling PLCs. Even in this case, the examples do not mention the irresponsible option of weekly two-hour early dismissals, a practice seen in both Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia. The examples given by the Center for this type of adjustment are much less disruptive: “For example, every other Thursday, student start time is delayed 20 minutes; classes start late one day and teachers arrive 30 minutes earlier on that day.”

Since there are much better ways of scheduling PLCs, the option of early dismissals should never even be considered. The other options mentioned by the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement  include scheduling classes to create common planning periods, expanding particular school days to “bank time for professional learning,” building the schedule so that teachers are freed up by “specials” (music, art, physical education, student assemblies, etc.); using monthly faculty meetings and district professionals days for PLCs; and combining classrooms to free teachers to meet.

The use of specialists, such as art, music, or physcial education teachers could also seen as a means of job creation, an urgent national priority.  Some districts  also use paraprofessionals for duties such as monitoring recess to give classroom teachers more planning time. Those who may argue that budgets don’t permit this are very shortsighted if they think that the drastic step of dismissing students early is at all acceptable.

League of Women Voters advocates 20-minute recess periods

Elizabeth Bradsher, Tessie Wilson, Jim Raney, Tina Hone, and Brad Center listen to Helen Kelly

On July 28 Helen Kelly told the Fairfax County school board that the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area (LWVFA) supports a 20-minute daily recess period for elementary school students. Kelly, the League’s action director, referred to the annual report that the School Health Advisory Committee presented to the school board June 8.

“In its most recent Executive Summary Report, the School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) recommended that schools specify a minimum daily recess period and insist that children cannot miss recess for failure to complete class assignments or for disciplinary reasons,” Kelly said. She also noted that The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that the minimum daily recess period should be at least 20 minutes in length.

“The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area supports both SHAC and NASPE in their recommendations,” Kelly said. “We believe that all elementary students should participate in a daily recess period lasting at least 20 minutes.”

“While it is important in reversing the epidemic of childhood obesity, exercise is not the only benefit students can gain from recess,” she said. “According to NASPE, besides offering students the opportunity to engage in physical activity, recess also allows them ‘to practice life skills such as cooperation, taking turns, following rules, sharing, communication, negotiation, problem solving and conflict resolution.’”

“We calculate that in order to have enough time to allow 20 minutes of recess per day, the overall amount of time the children spend in school would need to be increased by 50 minutes per week.” Kelly said. “Because of the many advantages it offers our students, we urge you to adopt the 20-minute minimum daily recess period for the 2012-2013 school year.”

SHAC also made recommendations regarding recess in it 2007 annual report, stating that recess should to be least 20 minutes per day with the exception of short Mondays. The staff responded in November 2007 that 10 minutes is all the time that is available for recess while still meeting the requirement for 990 hours of instruction annually. “By setting recess at 20 minutes, it would be necessary to extend the school day, or create a uniform weekly schedule,” the staff said.

Teachers march on Washington

Approximately 5,000 teachers marched in Washington today.  Michael Alison Chandler and Sarah Khan wrote about the march  for the Washington Post.   According to the article, Sonya Romera flew from from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend because “No Child Left Behind is demoralizing New Mexico.”

Her school is one of the majority of schools in the state labeled as “failing” under the No Child Left Behind law.

Under that “failing” label, Romero’s school has cut back time for physical education and recess, and she has been required to use a new reading curriculum, she said. The regimen “stifles imagination,” she said.

Playground intervention gets Florida first-graders moving

Peaceful Playgrounds, a group that provides blueprints and activity guides for playgrounds, reported that a Florida school that implemented the program found that 96 percent of first graders were active at recess, up from 52 percent in 2008.  The results of a study of a three-year effort to combat childhood obesity through increased physical activity were recently published by the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) .

At the start, more than one-third of the Martin County school district’s first-graders were identified as overweight or obese.  The study team, convened by the Martin County Health Department (MCHD), observed a combination of limited available playground equipment and baseline data showing a high rate of sedentary behavior at recess, with 21 percent of the students avoiding any physical activity.

The study team researched intervention options and chose the Peaceful Playgrounds Program, which promotes active play and structured activities by employing a wide variety of multi-use stenciled shapes, grids and games painted onto the ground. Nearly 100 different games can be played on the multi-use, brightly painted shapes, which include circles, letters, number grids, and hopping and skipping lines. Detailed guides, training manuals and DVDs are included for teachers and school staff.  The MCHD study findings also indicate that teacher, staff and volunteer participation in helping facilitate the activities enhances the program’s success.

Peaceful Playgrounds was originated by Dr. Melinda Bossenmeyer, Ed.D, a former elementary school principal, physical education teacher, and member of California’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity.  According to Dr. Bossenmeyer, “My goal was simple – get more children involved in physical activity without a huge investment in new playground equipment.  A child who burns off energy not only reduces the risk for obesity, but increases their focus in the classroom, and helps create a more peaceful playground.”

Today, Peaceful Playgrounds can be found in more than 8,000 schools nationwide.

Students still need to spend time in school buildings!

Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale will lead the school board members in a discussion about the future of education at a meeting this Friday. He says:

So, do you think we should design a new educational model? Perhaps a model based on creating… perhaps without the constraints of time, particularly time in a brick building… perhaps available 24/7/365 … perhaps one where technology can replace the routine, static portions of our current education system and where advanced thinking, and team learning becomes the purpose for the ‘public’ portion of our education system. (Or, perhaps this still is too constrained …. after all I am a digital immigrant!)

I think we need to challenge ourselves to design a new system and design it at perhaps 70% – 80% of the cost of the current system. (I think resource constraints will continue to be a major issue for us for decades to come. I also look at the current outsourcing that is occurring, and the substantially lower costs for that outsourcing!)

Students still need time inside a brick building! In fact, they could use MORE time, not less time, in the building (and on the playground).  Latchkey children can cope on their own for a certain amount of time, but too much time alone, even with computers, books, etc., is not good for these students, particularity elementary school students. With all the excitement about technology and advances in curriculum, let’s not forget that  many children in Fairfax County spend  a certain number of hours home alone or with siblings without the benefit of direct adult supervision.This is particularly true on Monday afternoons. While Dr. Dale is challenging himself and others to design a new system, let’s hope this design includes five full days in school each week for all students.

In addition to considering the time some children spend alone, we need to consider the additional costs parents would have if they needed to pay for additional daycare or if they needed to reduce their work hours.  I applaud Dr. Dale’s interest in cutting costs, but these savings should come within the school day for students, not by shortening the time students have in school.

New ways of arranging responsibilities within the school day could include different types of outsourcing, as Dr. Dale suggests. For example, some school districts are using outside companies to provide recess monitors. Perhaps Fairfax County could consider this option.

Does recess before lunch lead to increased consumption of fruits and vegetables?

Do students eat more fruits and vegetables if they have recess before lunch? That is a possible explanation why one school in the Thompson School District in Colorado had less plate waste compared to the other two elementary schools studied. Rebecca Jones, Education News, Colorado , reported the school with less waste, Cottonwood Plains Elementary, schedules recess before lunch, while the other two schools have recess after lunch.

At the elementary schools, nearly all the students took the offered entrée of the day and most of them opted for the canned fruit option. But fewer than half selected the fresh fruit or vegetable of the day. The students typically left 20 to 25 percent of their entrée uneaten. But at two of the three schools, the amount of fruit served that ended up in the trash topped 40 percent, while between 32 and 44 percent of the vegetables were thrown away.

The amount of uneaten food dropped significantly at the third school, however. There, just 29 percent of canned fruit, 25 percent of fresh fruit and 24 percent of vegetables went uneaten.

Stephanie Smith conducted the plate waste survey for the school district, using a digital camera to photograph the trays of the students before and after lunch. Milk was poured into a measuring cup. If a tray was hard to estimate the leftover food was weighed. “Since the district is very good about maintaining standard portion sizes, we can get to within 10 percent in estimating how much es eaten.”

“What research has shown is that when recess is before lunch, kids are settled down,” she said, “and they’re hungry because they’ve been out playing, so they tend to eat more food.”

Milk consumption was also better at Cottonwood Plains. Only 18 percent of the milk went undrunk, versus 33 percent and 45 percent at the other two schools.

At the middle schools, nearly half the fresh fruit was not eaten and more than a third of the canned fruit. At the high schools the proportion of fruits and vegetables that were uneaten ranged between 13 and 39 percent.