Rethinking gym class: Creating a new mission in the Kent School District

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Gym class. When mentioned, it may elicit a groan or bring a flood of memories back of locker rooms, stinky gym clothes, and attempting pull-ups.

Those may be the memories of adults, but that’s all changing for our current generation of students. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, nearly half (44 percent) of school administrators reported significantly cutting student time in physical education classes and recess. In 2013, only 48% of high school students attended physical education classes on 1 or more days during the average week at school.

Though this is true, the public health community continues to be at the forefront of uncovering the benefits of physical education and physical activity. Not only does physical activity combat obesity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it affects students’ ability to achieve academically at school—improving grades, test scores, and even cognitive abilities. Physical education classes can be so valuable that the CDC recommends maximizing their benefits by increasing time spent in physical education classes and/or improving the quality of the classes through trainings.

Bringing physical education teachers together to make a difference for Kent students
Recognizing the value of physical education, the Kent School District used Community Transformation Grant funding to implement new physical education curriculum that was high quality, culturally appropriate, and met all of Washington State’s Health & Fitness standards. Before this project, Kent did not have a standard curriculum for teaching K-12 physical education.

To do this work, 6 elementary, 3 middle, and 3 high school teachers formed a Health & Fitness Leadership Committee. During a two-day workshop, together with trainers from Focused Fitness, the Leadership Committee developed a physical education program framework, a mission statement, and a vision and values statement.

“Challenging as this was, I found it to be very rewarding,” said Randy Furukawa, physical education teacher at Neely-O’Brien Elementary. “I enjoyed the opportunity to work with my elementary colleagues as well as middle school and high school teachers. It was also a chance for me to reflect on my own program and try to align it with the district.”

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“Our Mission” Poster for Kent District High Schools

Selecting and developing a new curriculum
After thoroughly reviewing four curriculums, the Committee selected SPARK, which stands for Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids. Teams of committee members then mapped the curriculum to the state standards. These new lessons focus on motor skills, such as throwing or balance, instead of sports; social and emotional skills; and fitness components.

“The Committee really put their students at the heart of what they were doing—they are the un-sung champions of this project,” said Gita Krishnaswamy, who was the K-12 Curriculum Coordinator for Science and Health/Fitness during the project.

In spring and fall, physical education teachers across the district were trained in the new curriculum. Posters declaring the mission of the Committee are now hanging on the wall at the gyms, a visible reminder of the commitment of teachers to the health and fitness of their students.

“We are now in our first year of using our new curriculums, and it has been very exciting for me because I feel like I had an important part in contributing to improving our students’ health and fitness here in Kent,” said Kent Elementary Physical Education Teacher Sara Sweetser.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting successful initiatives as part of the Community Transformation Grant (CTG). In September 2012, partners Seattle Children’s Hospital, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the Healthy King County Coalition (HKCC) received a grant to work with local governments, schools, hospitals, low-income housing groups, and community organizations to improve the health of communities in South Seattle and South King County. Find out more here: www.kingcounty.gov/health/ctg.

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