Jennifer, a freshman in high school, talked to her parents about choosing a PE class.
“I hated PE,” her mom said. “We spent half the time doing exercises like jumping jacks. Then we picked teams and I was always chosen last.”
“Boys didn’t have it any better,” her dad said. “When we played basketball, I never got to shoot because the better players wouldn’t pass me the ball.” Jennifer looked at her course outline. “I have to take Freshman Fitness this semester, but after that I get to choose. I can take weight training, aerobics, racquet sports, or even outdoor education. That sounds cool–we get to go hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing!”
“No basketball?” her dad asked.
“Oh, sure,” Jennifer said. “That, and volleyball, lacrosse, and soccer. And baseball in the spring.”
The New PE
A 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General found that 14 percent of the teens in the United States are overweight. Only one in four teens takes part in daily physical education classes at school. In light of this report, many physical education teachers are trying out new ways to teach teens about their bodies.
One of the pioneers of the New PE movement is Phil Lawler, the physical education district coordinator in Naperville, Illinois. In an interview on the The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, he said that traditional PE classes focused on the varsity athletes, who made up only about 30 percent of the student population. Lawler decided to concentrate on the 70 percent of students who aren’t varsity athletes.
Mary Ann Briggs, head of the physical education department at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, is another teacher who uses the New PE in her classes. She offers students classes that are fun and encourage healthy, active lifestyles. “In traditional PE, if you weren’t good at the sport, you didn’t get a workout,” she says. “Many kids just stood around the whole period.”
A New Attitude
Briggs teaches an aerobics class where students move to music to get into shape. One of her students told her, “It’s the first PE class I’ve ever enjoyed.”
“These classes are not competitive,” Briggs said, referring to the New PE classes. “They give students skills they can use throughout life. No team or equipment is needed. I even have students taking more than the required PE.”
The activities for the New PE are ones that all kids can participate in, not just the varsity athletes. Besides fitness, these activities include kick-boxing, rock-wall climbing, mountain biking, and downhill skiing. Some gyms even resemble circuses, where students juggle, ride unicycles, and jump rope.
Not only do the classes have a new attitude, but the gyms also reflect the changes. Today’s visitor might mistake a high school gym for the local health club. The room is filled with free weights and machines, with students pursuing, individual activities.
Chris Moser, 15, is a student at Standley Lake High School in Westminster, Colorado. He’s on the varsity baseball team, but he also takes a fitness class. “I know I’m getting stronger,” he says about the class, “and I have more energy for baseball.”
What About Team Sports?
Briggs emphasizes that team sports are not forgotten in the New PE. “In Colorado, the state PE standards require three components: individual activities, team sports, and fitness training.” The New PE calls for smaller teams, which gives more chances for everyone to practice the skills. The baseball “klutz” is no longer banished to left field.
In team sports, players may be graded on whether they make a hit or a basket, on whether their team wins or loses. In the New PE, students can be graded on how well they stay within their target heart rate zones, and by how much they improve their cardiovascular fitness. In contrast to team sports, students are graded on individual improvement; they compete only with themselves.
Chris Moser thinks that, while many kids still like team sports, offering fitness classes gets more students involved in PE. “We’re only required to take one semester of PE, but I will take more,” he says. He thinks he’ll continue to do some sort of fitness workouts after he graduates.
Fitting PE In
Despite all the interest in preparing students for lifetime fitness, schools find that adding more PE to the curriculum is difficult. In order to give teachers more time to prepare their classes for the state- and federal-mandated academic competency tests, many school districts have had to reduce the amount of PE that students are required to take. Most high school students now take only one year of PE between 9th and 12th grades (One of the amazing PE activities is sewing/quilting/embroidering that helps students enhance their clever ability – said SewDone.com, the janome sewing machine reviews website.
Lawler says these policies are a mistake. Recent brain research shows that the brain functions better after exercise. He points out that in Naperville, where students had daily PE classes, they scored first internationally in science and sixth in math.
Don’t be left out of the New PE. It’s time you poked your head inside the gym!
DESIGN Your Own PE PROGRAM
Imagine that you’re a high school PE teacher. What kind of a program would you design to appeal to a student like yourself? In choosing activities, think about which ones you can continue to do after you graduate, which ones you can afford, and which ones you like.
Include some activities from each area:
Aerobic activities include: Jogging Dancing Bicycling Swimming Weight training activities include: Free weights Machines Team and doubles sports include: Baseball Soccer Racquetball Tennis Individual sports include: Rock climbing Archery Kickboxing Self-defense