Students deserve better a PE plan

By Steve Estes

While we are certain that the new physical education plan for Sugarloaf Elementary School will meet the minimum standards of federal and state requirements, we have to question the effectiveness of a program that only seeks to skate by on a minimum.

As part of the cost-cutting measures forced on the local schools this year by a need to cut more than $6 million from the district’s expenditures, Sugarloaf Elementary becomes the only school of its kind in the Monroe County system to offer a physical education curriculum without a qualified physical education instructor.

The plan for the coming year, at least, is to force the general education classroom teachers to add physical education into their schedule.

This is only applicable to the elementary side. The middle school students will retain a physical education program taught by a qualified physical education teacher.

This plan causes us some concerns in several areas.

First, we will be asking general education teachers, most of whom will not have a physical education background, to plan for, execute and maintain necessary records for a subject with which they have little or no experience.

These same teachers will have to add another classroom segment to their programs that already include the core courses necessary to provide a foundation for future success for our children.

General education teachers will need some training in the philosophies and science of physical education, as well as at least some rudimentary knowledge of the hoped-for outcome of the program.

These same teachers will be forced to give up some planning time, and possibly time they would have spent with needier students to initiate and supervise a physical education class.

Core curriculum teachers have mandatory amounts of time they must spend on each subject to meet state and federal guidelines. There is also a 150-minute per week standard for physical education. Some of that can be reached by in-class calisthenics and by a more structured recess period. But not all of the physical education requirement is best met by those two stop-gap methods.

A structured physical education program would seem to be a necessity today with the alarming trends we’re seeing toward childhood obesity.

This is not an argument about any specific teacher. We could care less what qualified physical education teacher fills the role of physical education instructor, as long as one does.

We wouldn’t expect the school system administration to be satisfied with a qualified art teacher leading a class on literature, or a science teacher leading a class on music.

Thus we don’t expect the school system administration to be satisfied with already overburdened general education teachers trying to impart the finer points of physical education.

Sugarloaf Elementary has a budgeted position for physical education. That position does not translate to a full-time slot. But there are other elementary schools with less than a full-time-equivalent physical education position with exactly that on the payroll.

Perhaps to assuage the fears of parents that physical education will become a joke under the new system, the administration could look into sharing a qualified physical education instructor between two schools and adjusting class schedules accordingly. Or perhaps make the elementary physical education slots roaming positions where the qualified personnel take care of all the schools on a rotating basis.

Cross-train the physical education teacher in some other elective class that will free up that position.

Or we could use a part-time teacher to fill that slot, although sharing a teacher already being paid seems a more cost-effective way to handle the situation.

We do that in other areas. Why is physical education so different?

Our teachers are talented and will find a way to meet the state mandates. Of this we are sure. And as talented educators they will find a way to make the program as successful for the kids as is possible.

But this should not be the long-term answer.

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