“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”
So, for starters, click on this video from Sandoval School District in Illinois. Coach Stacy’s friends at Sandoval are desperately trying to win $45K worth of physical education equipment, training and programming, in a contest sponsored by the Healthy School Makeover by Spark PE. A sophomore student created the video – and considering that Sandoval has no film classes, no high-tech video studio, and virtually no editing equipment, this is pretty impressive. Voting goes through November 14th and they’re in dire need your support, so please click on the vote button in the top right hand corner. Let’s all help them get fit.
Now here’s the rest of the story:
Nearly twenty years ago Phil Lawler, a visionary PE teacher from the Naperville, Illinois school district read a report that U.S. children were becoming obese due to inactivity. This got Lawler to thinking that the PE teacher’s job was to teach children about the importance of fitness, as opposed to sports, because many kids did not make the athletic teams and as a result, Physical Education classes represented the only physical activity they experienced in any given day or week. Lawler found another study that showed that less than 3% of adults over the age of 24 stay in shape through team sports.
Subsequently, Lawler convinced the Naperville district that physical activity caused students to be less stressed, more focused and highly motivated to learn. The Naperville PE department dumped the old PE model where only the few “chosen” kids got to play while the rest sat on the bench. They invested in treadmills, weights and heart rate monitors and with the help of the community created a Physical Education learning lab. They adopted Zero Hour PE (before regular classes) to meet the demand for more PE opportunities during the day. Classroom teachers integrated fitness into their lesson plans and students were scored on effort rather than skill. The PE staff designed an entire curriculum of 18 activities to teach students starting in 5th grade the importance of health over the lifespan. They graduated armed with a 14-page health assessment to be used in keeping themselves fit into their adulthood.
Sadly, Lawlor passed away in 2010, but spent some time during the last two years of his life mentoring Coach Stacy on the Naperville principles. He wanted Coach to continue carrying the torch and advocating for the mind-body benefits of PE in our schools. Naperville equipped students with competences for the real world – communication skills, problem solving, and teamwork. The PE Learning Labs also demonstrated that physical activity “improves learning on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.” Not surprisingly, Naperville’s academic test scores are through the roof!
Sandoval School District has caught on, and some Colorado school districts are beginning to follow Naperville’s example. Denver Public Schools have embarked on an exciting new initiative promoting the physical and cognitive benefits of physical activity. Sound Body Sound Mind Fitness Centers have launched in eight DPS High Schools. The Centers offer low-cost after-school neighborhood worksite fitness facilities for DPS students, faculty, and community members. The Fitness Centers’ mission is to “increase the fitness of Denver Public Schools’ students, employees and adult community to enhance health for a quality life.” Indeed, Denver is bucking the recent trend of chopping PE from the curriculum in order to save money. Instead, they’re fully incorporating a strong physical fitness component into its schools’ daily routines.
You can read up on some of the exciting new research on the brain and physical activity in Spark, by John J. Ratey, MD and Brain Rules by John Medina. Both these books are motivating leaders in health and education to change the way we have been approaching fitness and the epidemic of obesity in America. We hope they inspire you, just as they’ve inspired the folks at Sandoval and DPS, to pass the message on to schools, worksites, communities and our legislators.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep saying it: “When you’re moving, you’re improving.” And not just physically – emotionally and cognitively as well. Strong bodies make strong minds.