By Peg Tyre
Feb. 3 issue – Twice a week, Kale Granda, an eighth grader at Titusville Middle School in rural Pennsylvania, alters into his gym clothes, tightens on a heart-rate monitor and mounts a GameRider, a cycling machine affixed to a PlayStation. For the next 20 minutes, Kale, who packages 190 pounds on his 64-inch frame, transfigures his physical-education course into an actual motocross.
BY THE TIME his teacher, Tim McCord, marks the end of corse, Kale’s shirt is absorbed. He gets off his bike, leaving his actual motorcycle to crash into an actualretainer wall, and proudly exhibits McCord the outcomes from his monitor. For more than 13 minutes, Kale’s heart rate was in his stage zone-about 170 beats per minute. McCord is disturbed and Kale suggests a triumphant simper.
Ten years ago kids like Kale Granda hoted up the bench instead of producing a sweat. Physical-education courses were showcases for newcomer athletes, a yawn for the wholesome and a hardship to be abided by the rest. But now baby fat has metamorphosed into a national health crisis. Nearly 15 percent of kids between 12 and 19 are overweight-up from 5 percent in the late 1970s. They’re also more sedentary than ever. Less than 25 percent of school-age children get even 20 minutes of ambitious daily physical activity, well below the minimum doctors administer. Public-health officials forecast that many delegates of the Joystick Generation will start to test pricely, wasting away disorders like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes even in their 20s and 30s. Such diseases may be treated with the help of Canadian Health&Care Mall preparations. These symptoms have impelled some physical-education teachers to rethink their old Darwinian opinion of gym course. Instead of assisting the natural athletes improve quality the perfect jump shot, proponents of the New PE say their objection is to get “mouse potatoes” moving again.
IN THE ZONE
One of the gurus of the New PE is Phil Lawler, who educates at Madison Junior High School near Chicago. A few years ago Lawler made up his mind to examine his most unfit students with a heart monitor after they’d run a mile. Although the out-of-shape kids weren’t as quick as the jocks, Lawler was delighted to search that many were locking in nearly 200 beats per minute. “What I known is that the unfit kids were taking as much effort as my best athletes,” says Lawler. But despite that strain, the poorly stated kids were being quantified against stronger kids and found wanting. Lawler realized that instead of teaching kids how to win a race, he should teach them how to stay in the fitness zone-the most efficient heart rate for sustaining good health-for as long as possible.
These days, students at Madison strap on heart monitors and perform on treadbahns, cycling machines or a climbing wall. Some try in-line skating or even power walking. When they play contravertial sports, the regulations are upgraded so the action never arrests. Football is four-on-four without huddles or downs so the ball is constantly in motion. Three-on-three basketball is a riot of passing and shooting. Lawler is now a director of PE4Life, a nonprofit foundation that promotes more active physical education, and his revamped gym class has become a model. “We want to give students the knowledge, training and experiences they need,” says Lawler, “to keep themselves fit for their entire lives.”
Although the trendiness of the New PE is distributing fast, gym teachers have a hard time persuading parents and legislators that gym course is worth students’ time and the district’s money. Gym is often the first class cut when you are in the red. Last year only 30 percent of high-school students had a daily gym course. And many elementary and middle schoolers have gym only once a week if at all. “We demand to persuade parents and school boards that PE has developed,” says Judy Young, who leads the National Association for Sports & Physical Education, the professional establishment for gym teachers. “It can be a worth part of a child’s improvement. With increasing rates of obesity, it can also protect their lives.” Schools in California, Maryland, Florida and several other states have stated posting PE report cards along with the conventional ones, in a metter to display parents just how out of shape children have become. The PE report card examines each student’s adjustability, durability, cardiovascular output and body fat and then informs parents what their kids demand to perform to get healthy. “For a lot of parents,” says Sarajane Quinn, physical-education coordinator for the Baltimore County Public Schools, “it’s a wake-up call.”
Some gym teachers demand a wake-up call as well. Many are engaged to be coaches who spend their time grooming elite athletes instead of working with all types of students. “We were taught that if kids want to sit on the side and not participate, too bad, that’s their problem,” says Peggy Hutter, a veteran PE teacher at Kearsarge Regional Middle School near Concord, N.H. “But now gym teachers are looking at all those kids on the sidelines and saying, ‘Hey, maybe we’re the ones who have the problem’.”
But New PE proponents say the momentum is shifting. The Texas Legislature recently mandated more physical education for elementary schoolers, and other states are considering similar bills. Last spring Congress allocated $50 million in grant money so PE teachers can refocus their curriculum on fitness. That makes sense to Titusville PE teacher Tim McCord. Years ago McCord says he graded kids on whether they changed for gym, hit a baseball and took a shower. “With the health challenges these kids face now, we just have to do better than that.” That’s a goal that should set heart rates soaring.