Katie May Smith Child Development Robert Mandatta November 2008

What is Physical Education Worth?
Physical Education has long been a fundamental part of our children’s education. For too long, however, these programs have taken a back seat in our public education system. In recent years, however, with the health crisis our country faces, they have come forward once again in our minds as not only valuable, but necessary. “In the past 25 to 30 years, the number of overweight children has doubled and he number of overweight adolescents has tripled, so that today roughly one child or adolescent out of seven is overweight (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).” (Kail, 2007, p.119)

There are several factors by which to determine the intrinsic value of physical fitness to our public education system, not the least of which being the actual physical benefits. In a time when so many youngsters are overweight and even obese, what could be more valuable to them than a program that teaches them proper fitness and respect for their bodies? But let us also consider the academic value of physical education programs as well; that is, what they add to students’ academic success in schools, or what, perhaps, they detract. The detractions are quite evident. The more time and money schools spend on physical education, the less of these they will have available for academic education. What positive affects, then, can gym classes have on students learning abilities?

According to Richard Bailey PhD, professor or Pedagogy at Roehampton University in London, “The classic study of the relationship between PES [Physical Education and Sports] and general school performance was carried out in France in the early 1950’s. (citation omitted) Researchers reduced “academic” curriculum time by 26%, replacing it with PES; yet, academic results did not worsen, and there were fewer discipline problems, greater attentiveness and less absenteeism.” Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain just as it does any other part of the body. It causes the brain to release various hormones such as endorphins, which are linked with general positive feelings. In short, physical activity leads to better moods, which lead to better concentration. As the above study would suggest, physical education has demonstrated itself to be effective in enhancing children’s concentration and academic achievement. To add to these findings, Diane Mahoney (2005), discusses a study in which obese children were tested for the effects of physical activity on their cognitive abilities. Children in this study, which took place over a three month period, participated in one of three groups; a control group, a group that participated in vigorous aerobic exercise (heart rate maintained over 150 bpm) for twenty minutes per day, and a group that participated in the same aerobic exercise for forty minutes per day. “Before and after the interventions, all participants underwent standardized mental functioning testing using the Cognitive Assessment System (CAS)… Analysis of variance revealed significant improvement following both exercise interventions in the planning scale of the CAS, with the high-dose exercise group experiencing the most change from baseline.” (Mahoney, 2005)

Both the study in France and the study above (conducted by Mathew Gregoski of the Georgia Prevention Institute of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta) are suggestive of the potential positive effects of physical education programs on children’s education. But children need more than a solid academia to succeed in life. Kail (2007) reminds us that “[S]ports can enhance participants’ self-esteem and can help them to learn initiative (Larson, 2000; Whitehead & Corbin, 1997). Sports can also provide children a chance to learn important social skills, such as how to work effectively as part of a group, often in complementary roles. Finally, playing sports allows children to use their emerging cognitive skills as they devise new playing strategies or modify the rules of a game.” (p. 158) In a world where teamwork and leadership qualities are so essential to a successful education as well as a career, physical education and sports are perhaps the best places to teach our children these skills. Fortunately for Vermonter’s, our legislators also see the value of physical education, which is why it was included in Act 161, passed in 2003 by the House. The provisions of this act included creating a board to monitor and develop a wellness curricula including physical activity and nutrition; to make available resources to instructors to ensure that they are prepared to teach and evaluate these curricula; and to make available to the public and to schools and administrators data relating to the state of wellness in our schools, among other things. Since this act passed in 2003, great strides have been made in improving the health and wellness programs in our schools. Fundraising efforts have been researched, conferences

for educators have been held, newsletters and resources have been published and made available, and programs for training health and fitness educators have been established at UVM, Lyndon and Castleton State Colleges, and at Norwich University. Pursuant to Act 161, a team consisting of the Departments of Health, the Department of Education, and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets put forth a set of guidelines known as the “Vermont Nutrition and Fitness Policy Guidelines.” These guidelines set forth requirements that physical education be taught by licensed professionals, and be “sequential, developmentally appropriate and, in alignment with the National Association for Sports and Physical Education, a minimum of 150 minutes per week for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students.” (Vermont, 2005) “Our goal in publishing these [Vermont Nutrition and Fitness Policy] guidelines is to provide schools with the most recent information on best practices for school nutrition and physical fitness that may influence the rates of child and adolescent obesity and enhance academic performance.” -Vermont, 2005

As you can see, the health and wellness of our students is of great concern here in Vermont, and recently we have been doing what we can to ensure that all students have access to adequate nutrition and fitness programs in our schools. Considering the budget cuts toward education that have been continuous on a national scale, I am glad to see that at least here in Vermont, we are still working to ensure that our children get the well rounded education they deserve.

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