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Jumping Through Hoops to Get Kids Moving More

I’ve always wanted to be a physical education teacher for as long as I can remember. For the past 23 years, I was able to live my dream, teaching elementary students how to move their bodies in ways that were engaging, purposeful, and fun. Three years ago, I moved into a new role at San Diego Unified School District where I now support around 200 K-12 schools as they help students become more active throughout the day.

At San Diego Unified, many of our schools don’t have a credentialed physical education teacher. My job is to fill the gaps by providing resources and training for classroom teachers. Ideally, my job would be to oversee programs and support teachers to improve physical education instruction because every school would already have a dedicated physical education. But in reality, only a handful of states in the U.S. require physical education for every grade and only a third of kids are meeting experts’ recommendation for daily physical activity that we know is crucial to their healthy development.

Increase Movement in the Classroom

Our Increasing Movement Physical Activity in Class Time (IMPACT) program was created to target schools where students with the poorest health outcomes (marked by the high BMI and low aerobic capacity) and the highest poverty levels overlap. A partnership between myself and Kate McDevitt of the University of California San Diego’s (UCSD) Center for Community Health and UCSD Athletics to help these at-risk students meet their grade-specific fitness standards.

Through this partnership, we’re now able to provide students with twice-weekly 20-minute sessions of structured physical activity guided by student athletes from the university. Students move through a series of circuits that include hula hoops, ladders, jump ropes, and more. The idea is to build something sustainable: we’re showing classroom teachers how they can use simple equipment and instruction to lead physical activities at those schools that lack adequate physical education staffing or resources.

Our most recent IMPACT school is Florence Elementary School. We’re fortunate that Florence is also enrolled in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. When we approached the school principal and staff, it was reassuring to know they were already on board with school wellness. On the first day of implementation, Florence teachers showed up in matching athletic gear – a sure sign that they were ready to make this program successful!

Bringing together community resources like our UCSD partners and national support from organizations like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has been crucial to help schools fill the gaps that exist in providing comprehensive physical education due to lack of infrastructure and and funding. Districts often don’t have the support or resources to do it alone.

We also know that what we’re doing is improving more than fitness – it’s having ripple effects throughout the school. Findings from a 2014 study sponsored by the California Endowment, which included San Diego Unified, showed that student physical activity was related to reduced negative classroom behavior.

The study also noted that teachers cited time and a lack of training as barriers to scaling up these efforts, reinforcing that we need to work together. Educators shouldn’t have to jump through hoops – literally – to get our kids moving. Together, our efforts are multiplied and we will be able to make purposeful physical education a reality for all students.

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