High-quality health and physical education programs help students succeed in life. At the moment, it looks like we’re losing the fight against inactivity and obesity in our young people. We are raising the most sedentary and unhealthy generation in American history: Its members physical education children in kindergarten have the dubious distinction of being the first generation not to outlive their parents. Meaningful, high-quality health and physical education is one of the best strategies we have to reverse this trend.
And, not only does good HPE increase the chances that our young people will live healthier, more productive lifespans, it pays off in the classroom, as well. Let’s look at some of the reasons we’re in our current physical condition, and how and why we can start changing attitudes, in both the younger and older populations, about healthy living and exercise. Clearly, we have a problem with childhood obesity in America. Our dietary choices aren’t helping, either. The parents of today are the second generation of families raised in a fast-food culture. Many families find that the convenience of fast food, coupled with the opportunity not to make a mess at home, is the quick and easy way to satisfy hunger. However, as we all know, most fast food falls short in providing the healthy nutrition that children need.
As we ingest fast food, junk food and other menu items of questionable nutritious value, we don’t burn the calories the way our predecessors did. We’ve become a push-button, quick-fix, take-a-pill kind of society. We all have cars and drive them constantly, even if we’re just going around the corner to the store. Instead of walking to the house or office next door to visit, or meeting in the park for a walk, we’re on cell phones, sending e-mails, or hanging out on social media sites. It doesn’t have to be this way. Quality health and physical education programs can be life-changing for today’s young people and, in many cases, already are.
Such programs offer students a well-rounded opportunity to develop their bodies and minds to gain skills that will propel them to success in both the physical and academic aspects of education—and life. Here’s just one example of how physical education can cross academic lines: I teach in Arlington and several years ago, a series of sniper shootings hit the Washington, D. Schools were temporarily locked down—no students outside for HPE, recess or any reason. Before long, the classroom teachers at my school saw a significant change in the learning capacity of their students: The youngsters could not sit still or stay focused on academics.
The atmosphere of the remainder of the lockdown seemed to calm. Students were more focused and teachers thanked the HPE staff for the suggestions. Throughout the school year, in my class I use cross-curricular activities that bring math, vocabulary and social studies to show a connection to other core courses. The Goals of HPE A quality HPE program should offer challenging yet achievable goals and include all students in each activity session. Elementary students should build basic skills, such as skipping and hopping, and work up to developing sport skills. Middle school HPE should continue to build physical skills while teaching students how to apply sports skills and basic sports strategies.