Gym class isn’t just for jocks — or it shouldn’t be

Personally, I always loved gym class as a kid. Dodgeball, relay races. I have flashbacks to my classmates standing around the trampoline as we took turns bouncing. So, I was somewhat surprised when I realized it wasn’t for everyone.

Dodgeball image“I always dreaded the picking of teams and kids yelling at you when you mess up,” said one of my colleagues this week when the topic of physical education classes came up. “And dodgeball was just downright mean, with boys trying to hit you as hard as they could. I would get hit on purpose as early as possible so I could sit down.”

I’ve heard these same comments from many friends over the years. PE definitely can make an impression on kids.

Needless to say, my colleague was pleased to read about a school wellness program that instructs physical education staff in the use of a curriculum that emphasizes movement and activity over sport-specific skills.

“I was never good at or interested in sports, and PE always seemed to involve either kickball or dodgeball,” she said. “I’m glad to see that schools are taking a broader approach to physical fitness.”

I touched on this approach when I wrote about a new Indiana University study that examined a school wellness program that was shown to help students in elementary and middle school increase their physical activity, despite widespread cuts to PE classes and recess.

“With support from teachers, administrators and parents, our schools can become healthier places,” said Mindy Hightower King, evaluation manager at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IU Bloomington. “Despite budget cuts and increasing emphasis on academic skills, schools are choosing to focus on improving student health, which ultimately can support improved academic performance.”

Mindy Hightower King

Mindy Hightower King

The study examined HEROES, which is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coordinated school health model. HEROES is designed to enhance schoolwide wellness through changes in physical education, nutrition, health promotion efforts for school staff and family, and community involvement. King said programs like this do not require grant funding and that free resources are available online.

“Schools that showed higher levels of program implementation had more students increase their physical activity,” King said. “In addition, vigorous physical activity, defined as activity that raises heart rate and breathing, increased more in girls than in boys. This latter finding is especially important, as past research has shown that boys of this age typically engage in more vigorous physical activity than girls.”

A “broader approach to physical fitness” is an apt description of the SPARK curriculum used by HEROES. King said it includes more than 300 activities, including cooperative and aerobic games, dances, obstacle courses, fitness circuits and parachute play. She said quite a bit of research has linked SPARK with “everything from fitness to academic achievement, and even behavior outcomes.”

When I think back to my behavior as a youngster, I image that I would have benefited from an approach like this, although kickball and dodgeball still were a lot of fun.

Co-authors of the study include lead author Dong-Chul Seo, IU School of Public Health-Bloomington; Nayoung Kim, IU School of Public Health-Bloomington; Danielle Sovinski, Center on Education and Lifelong Learning; Rhonda Meade, Welborn Baptist Foundation; and Alyssa M. Lederer, Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.

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