Spotlight on Physical Education in Sanger Unified School District

Sanger Unified School District is home to 20 schools, including three charter schools, a community day school, and an adult school. The district located in Fresno, California, spans 180 square miles and serves 11,360 students, 70 percent of whom are Hispanic. Dru Bagwell, Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Program Manager in California, will tell you that Sanger is “a shining example in the state of California!”

Bagwell works closely with Jaime Brown, who is serving her third year as the district’s physical education (PE) coordinator, to foster their shared vision for health and fitness in the school environment. Sanger schools have received 10 National Healthy Schools Awards (7 Bronze and 3 Silver) from the Alliance to date.

From elementary through high school, all students receive high-quality physical education taught by credentialed instructors. Elementary school students receive 210 minutes of physical education for every 10 school days while secondary school students receive 400 minutes. The district focuses on ensuring that children not only feel challenged, but that they have the chance to be successful. “With PE, if you don’t master the standard that’s being taught, everyone can see that. It’s very transparent,” said Brown. “Our PE program does an amazing job of making students want to learn and perform because they feel safe and they’re always moving.”

All elementary students also enjoy recess and some schools have started piloted recess before lunch with positive results. Teachers note that when students have a chance to play before they eat, they are hungrier and tend to eat more of the healthy meal provided by the school during their lunch period.

Support from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, administration, parents, and staff has been instrumental to the district’s success. “The one thing people are scared of is change. If this is a change you want to make, the best way to do it is to have support from an organization like the Alliance that knows how to walk you through the steps of change,” said Brown. She cites support from Bagwell in addition to the resources and tools available on the Alliance’s website as key components to Sanger’s transformation. Specifically, Brown utilized resources around staff wellness to encourage teachers to set a healthy example for their students. Teachers are now wearing pedometers and participating in walking clubs, showing students that it’s never too early or late to focus on fitness.

Even Sanger Mayor Joshua Mitchell is involved, leading the Mayor’s Fitness Challenge with a small group of schools last year. Students were encouraged to participate in a certain number of minutes of physical activity each day and asked to have a parent sign off on their activity calendars. Students who completed the program were rewarded with a certificate presented by the Mayor himself and a healthy lunch of sandwiches and water at school. The program was so popular that parents requested it be expanded to more schools the following year!

All of these efforts have helped Sanger schools score big. “If we look at past and current performance on state and district assessments, you notice that when our elementary PE program began, the performance on assessments went up,” said Brown. At Quail Lake Elementary School, teachers have students “power walk” for 20 minutes before they sit for state assessments. “They feel that the students are more engaged and perform better on the assessments after they walk,” explained Brown. “And their scores support that.”