Math and English lessons during Gym? It’s not a strange as it seems

February 6, 2019 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

My memories of physical education class consist of my classmates whacking me in the ankles with floor hockey sticks, my (poor) attempts to perform on the uneven bars and hitting tennis balls well beyond the top of the enclosure surrounding the high school tennis courts.

Yours may be similar.

But Abram Lansing Elementary School students in the Cohoes City School District will have a unique set of memories from their physical education classes: walking to a nearby bowling alley and bowling for an hour during the school day and fishing at a nearby pond.

Fun, right?

But these activities are more than fun. They are designed to meet the New York State Learning Standards for Physical Education. Like other required subjects of study in New York state — such as math, English language arts and science — physical education has specific learning standards that guide the curriculum taught in schools across the state.

Most parents likely correlate physical education classes with their children participating in and learning about various games, sports and exercises in the school gymnasium or on school fields, but the standards include also identifying potential physical activity opportunities in the community and at home.

The current New York state physical education learning standards include three areas:

Standard 1: Personal Health and Fitness

Students will have the necessary knowledge and skills to establish and maintain physical fitness, participate in physical activity and maintain personal health.

Standard 2: A Safe and Healthy Environment

Students will acquire the knowledge and ability necessary to create and maintain a safe and healthy environment.

Standard 3: Resource Management

Students will understand and be able to manage their personal and community resources.

Cohoes physical education teacher Teresa Gendron, who taught 24 years at Abram Lansing before moving three years ago to Cohoes Middle School, said she incorporated bowling and fishing into her elementary classes because they are activities that students can continue throughout their lives and they support Standard 3. Both the bowling alley and pond are near many students’ homes and are a short walk from the school, which provides an opportunity to get the students moving and exercising and shows them a place to be physically active when not in school, she said.

“I think it’s important to show them these opportunities,” Gendron said. “We’re supposed to look outside of our school setting to stay active and healthy. This is something they can do the rest of their lives.”

For the fishing activities, Gendron partnered with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which provided free fishing poles, bait and staff to assist the students. Some students even caught their first fish during class.

“These kids need that opportunity,” Gendron said.

New York state requires all students in kindergarten through grade 12 to attend and participate in physical education 120 minutes per calendar week, not including any time that may be required for dressing and showering. Recess does not count toward the requirement.

Physical education is required to receive a New York state diploma; students must earn from grade 9 until graduation the equivalent of two units of physical education credit (¼ credits are earned per semester for a total of eight semesters).

The existing physical education learning standards were drafted in 1996 and are currently under review. The standards guide the curriculum, with the end goal that students “have the knowledge and skills to participate in a variety of healthy activities; understand and appreciate the benefits of maintaining a healthful lifestyle; understand how to evaluate and access resources in their community to pursue a healthy and active life; and will be aware of the many career opportunities available in this field,” according to the state Education Department website.

Darryl Daily, NYSED’s physical education associate, said many schools already blend the state standards with the National Standards for K-12 Physical Education, which the physical education state standards review group is looking at as part of its process. Mental health and social-emotional learning are also elements that are important as there is a focus on educating the whole child through a whole school concept, he said.

That concept is promoted at the federal level, through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Healthy Schools initiative, which works with states, school systems, communities and national partners to prevent chronic disease and promote the health and well-being of children and adolescents in schools, according to its website. Its Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model (WSCC) has 10 components, one of which is physical education.

“A well-designed physical education program provides the opportunity for students to learn key concepts and practice critical skills needed to establish and maintain physically active lifestyles throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood,” according to the WSCC model.

Many schools already integrate community resources, such as the bowling alley in Cohoes, into their physical education curriculum, which is developed at the local level, Mr. Daily said. Introducing students to those community-based resources align with the standards, and they have the benefit of engaging those students who may not be athletically inclined or enjoy organized sports programs, he said.

While at the elementary school, Gendron gave students pedometers to use as they walked on a public bicycle path near the school. Next to the middle school campus, a new cross country/ski trail recently opened in a city park, and she plans to incorporate its use into her middle school physical education classes.

“I want to show them the resources right here in their backyard,” Gendron said. “You never know what a kid is going to end up doing later in life.”

Want to know more?

The New York State Education Department has a wealth of information on its website about the physical education learning standards, including the standards themselves.

Looking for ideas on how your family can be more active?

There are plenty of resources in the community to help families be more physically active, as well as things that families and individuals can do at home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services compiled a list of ideas to encourage physical activity, many of which can be adopted by families. Some examples include:

  • Go swimming at a local recreation center
  • Head to a local park with friends to play basketball or football
  • Join a community sports team or league
  • Participate in a local road race

Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her fourth- and sixth-grade sons.

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