By AMELIA HAVANEC
Capital News Service
LANSING – When it comes to K-12 education, the subjects that get measured by the government are the ones that get priority during the school day – leaving physical education classes in the dust, according to Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
“It’s just reality.” Cook said. “Positions get cut. You lose your art, music and physical education because those are not on the statewide tests. How do you test for physical education, for crying out loud? Well you can’t.”
His union represents teachers and other public school staff across the state.
The stress of achieving overall higher test scores for students is not just a time commitment. That effort gets the last penny of education funds, Cook says, in which case the districts lose their incentive to offer elective programs.
In some cases, there have been cuts to the physical education department in K-12 schools, greatly sacrificing quality, Cook said. “It’s rare to go into an elementary school and have anything near what it used to be.”
Executive director Roger Jackson of SHAPE Michigan said, “For the most part here in Michigan, most elementary kids don’t get more than maybe 60-90 minutes of physical education a week – some places less than that. But if you go by the Shape America policy recommendations, it’s 30 minutes a day. So we fall far short of that.”
The association provides professional development and advocacy for teachers in health, physical education, recreation and dance.
Jackson, who is also an adjunct instructor at Wayne State University in the Department of Kinesiology, Health and Sports, points to the shortage of substitute teachers across the state, which can directly reduce the availability of physical education classes.
If a substitute can’t be found at the last minute, then schools may pull physical education teachers away from their classes to sub in a regular classroom.
Schools may eliminate physical education programs and fall back on elementary classroom teachers to pick up the slack, according to Jackson. “In Michigan, any person that is certified as an elementary classroom teacher is also certified to teach or has had methods classes in art, music or physical education. They could easily be assigned to do the physical education part for their own class.”
In other cases, elementary schools that cut physical education classes entirely substitute recess as the only way for children to get moving throughout the school day, according to Trish Dewald, executive director of Danialle Karmanos’ Work It Out (DKWIO), a nonprofit organization based in Detroit that offers yoga and nutrition classes free to elementary schools.
“When our organization was founded 10 years ago, we went into the schools with a broader scope for physical education,” Dewald said. “So we were doing all sorts of things: soccer, yoga, tag, dance and ice skating to provide a wide spectrum of opportunities for the kids.
“And the yoga program resonated with the kids. They appreciated the opportunity to be still and to focus inward, and to have those few moments of peace that we brought with the program.”
DKWIO serves 1,100 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students in seven Detroit charter schools and eight Detroit public schools. The organization’s 15 trained yoga teachers volunteer an hour for each class, averaging 30 students each.
While DKWIO serves solely elementary schools, the consequences of reduced or absent physical education reach beyond high school.
According to the Department of Defense, 28 percent of Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the military because of their weight or mental health.
And experts agree that there’s no reason why Michigan students would differ from that percent when the Michigan School Code doesn’t require elementary and middle school physical education.
“The only requirement that we have in Michigan is for high school students to have a half credit in physical education in order to graduate,” SHAPE Michigan’s Jackson said. “And even then there are ways that students don’t have to do that. They can substitute other classes.”
It’s not just about teaching team sports or playing games, Jackson says. A rounded physical education helps develop confidence for students to be active outside of school.
“Nationally, when you look at studies, kids that are in better shape, not only do they have the capability of performing better in the classroom, but they have less absenteeism,” Jackson said.
“When you’re in better shape, you’re healthier. It helps in their whole education experience.”
By AMELIA HAVANEC