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.”
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.