What does PE class have to do with the Olympics? A lot

Every four years, we’re glued to our TVs with the same anticipation and excitement. It’s all we talk about—at work, the coffee shop, during dinner. We trade our opinions and discover that each of us is rooting for that one team, that one person.

No, my friends, this time we’re not talking about the election. The long-awaited 2016 Summer Olympics are finally here.

We’re all eagerly pulling for the next gold medalist. But this is also a good time to focus on physical fitness and state of mind, for our students and ourselves.

Because we’re educators, the Olympics remind us that a truly well-rounded education includes physical education—and recess, too.

Many of these talented athletes got their start in school. Their love for sports often started with our encouragement and inspiration.

Take, for example, soccer player Alex Morgan, who won her first gold medal in the 2012 Olympics. She got her start playing soccer at Diamond Bar High School in Diamond Bar, Calif.

And how about track star Ashton Eaton? At age 24, he was the youngest member of the US decathlon team to  take home a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, but Mountain View High School in Bend, Ore. was where he first pursued his love for track and field.

But as we know better than most, physical education has become a precious commodity in our schools. Many simply don’t offer it. And because PE is often absent, as First Lady Michelle Obama stated, The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”

U.S. gymnasts, left to right, Simone Biles, Gabrielle Douglas, Lauren Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman hold their gold medals during the medal ceremony for the artistic gymnastics women's team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
U.S. gymnasts, left to right, Simone Biles, Gabrielle Douglas, Lauren Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman hold their gold medals during the medal ceremony for the artistic gymnastics women’s team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

National recommendations are that children should be getting at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. What’s more, at least half of that exercise should be taking place during the school day.

Why, then, do only six out of 50 states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont) require PE in grades K-12?

Why do 22 percent of schools not require students to take PE at all?

Why are only about one-third of all children physically active every day?

Two things are responsible: budget cuts and pressure to perform on standardized tests, both of which we know can be directly linked to the drastic No Child Left Untested education law. An NEA policy brief determined that since that law was passed, “44 percent of school administrators reported cutting physical education, art, music and recess to devote more time to reading and math.”

It’s terrible that many districts are balancing budgets by prioritizing test scores over health and eliminating physical education altogether.

These cuts have contributed to an alarming increase in health problems in our students. Nearly 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese. That means nearly 1 in 3 children is at dangerous risk of developing serious illnesses and diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.

Schools are cutting PE at the expense of student achievement. Studies have shown that students learned vocabulary at a rate that was 20 percent faster when they were engaged in intense physical exercise as opposed to being sedentary and participating only in moderate running. While parents sometimes express concerns that the time taken away from academic lessons in favor of physical activity comes at the cost of scholastic performance, the opposite is actually true.

Schools are cutting PE at the expense of student success. We know that health and PE are important elements of a well-rounded education. This is one of the many reasons we support the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This new federal education legislation provides increased access to funds for health and PE programs. It empowers states and school districts to set individual priorities for funding and accountability.

As educators, we are devoted to reversing the high-stress school environments that often resulted because testing has taken the place of teaching, learning and getting active. Recently, mandatory recess legislation has been introduced in at least four states, including Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. With ESSA, our continued efforts to bring balance back to the curriculum will make better health for our students a reality.

Of course, we must remember that this is not just about our students. We can’t neglect our own health, either.

We may not be Olympic athletes ourselves—but we set records in patience, understanding and caring all the time.  And we are educating and nurturing future Olympians in our school every day. Together, we can be the strong and healthy role models they need.


3 Responses to “What does PE class have to do with the Olympics? A lot”

  1. Susan Loftus. I teach and learn Education that is Physical with students at Burning Tree ES (Bethesda, MD)

    Thank you Lily! And remember PE is about “learning to move” AND “moving to learn!”

    Yes, students learn how to do cartwheels and round-offs. (actually, we like to call it transferring weight from feet-to hands-to feet, thereby allowing for varied responses.) This same lesson however can extend into the science behind it. Newton’s laws of motion are at work! Highly qualified Physical Education teachers frame the learning activity so it is more than “do this movement.” Learning gymnastics becomes a scientific experiment. Balance= playing with center of gravity and base of support. Forward Rolls, cartwheels, round offs = speed, power, axis of rotation, sequential joint movements. PE is authentic science in action. PE is students thinking critically on their feet!

  2. Francesca Zavacky

    Bravo Lily! Physical education is an important subject that is part of a well-rounded education and teaches so much to students. Common technical language and learning in physical education includes most of the concepts that kids learn in the classroom. In elementary school, the pedagogical language of physical education is just about the same as the early sight words kids are learning in the classroom-we just introduce these words and concepts through movement. Middle and high school is where youth learn about how to take all these skills that exist in three domains of learning and transfer them to the life they lead outside of school. For more on what should be happening in a physical education program, download the Essential Components of Physical Education at http://www.shapeamerica.org/upload/theessentialcomponentsofphysicaleducation.pdf

  3. Robert empom

    I like this lesson about the Olympics! I am going to try something like this next week to celebrate the Olympics with my preschool classes. I am using scarves as ice skates for the children to glide around on. Also, scooters will be used as a skeleton race (tummy on the scooter). Ice Hockey will be the third event for the children to learn about and have fun with.
    By the way! The best essay writing service – https://www.easyessay.pro/
    And Happy New Year!


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