Archive for January, 2012

Gambling with our Future, Part 2: Implications of Removing Physical Education from Schools

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of our two-part pe-infographicseries about how physical education has been impacted by national budget cuts. To read Part 1, click here.

In our last piece, we discussed the current happenings in this political and economic milieu as they relate to the state of education and the health of our children. There is no federal law requiring schools to provide students with physical education. Nor are there incentives for schools to do so. Instead, states are allotted the power to set requirements, but school districts are responsible for actually implementing them.

With very little funding, many schools have cut physical education altogether. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), the median budget for physical education in schools across the country is $764 per year—not much. View the infographic on this White House budget page to put into perspective how much of the U.S. budget goes into education.

Why is a lack of physical education in our schools bad for our children, their future, and our nation?

PE and Academic Performance

American schools have backed away from physical education classes in favor of rigorous academic focus so that the United States can compete in a challenging and advanced global market. While this may seem like a reasonable and necessary thing to do, it does more harm than good.

According to studies by NASPE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attending physical education classes is directly related to better academic performance and attitude toward school. Physical activity promotes brain function and psychological well-being, reduces anxiety, and increases overall energy and attention span.

Additionally, a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) concludes that physical activity as taught in physical education classes and school sports can help prevent risky behaviors like smoking, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and unhealthy eating; antisocial behaviors and violence; and pregnancy. The report concludes that “There is a clear consensus that children and youth should be involved in physical activity on a regular basis, and that teaching/reward systems should encourage active participation and enjoyment by all students, not just the highly skilled.”

Less Physical Education, More Obesity

In all of this, the obvious deduction is that less physical activity equals more unhealthy children. The CDC reports that 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese. That’s twelve and a half million children that are obese in America—almost a fifth of our future. This figure has tripled since 1980. Almost 34 percent of adults are obese.
Overweight and obese children are at high risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, low self-esteem, joint, bone, and muscle problems, and more.

Increased Health Care Spending

State and federal government may think slashing PE programs will save money. Perhaps this is true of short-term, narrow thinking. In the long term, however, decreased physical education in school means fewer healthy lifestyle choices. This leads to more sedentary lifestyles, an increased prevalence of heart disease and other weight-related health issues, and  higher health care costs for America.

PE is cost effective; $147 billion is spent yearly on obesity-related health care costs. With an upward trend in obesity, this figure can only grow. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Funds spent on teaching youth how to live a healthy lifestyle are worth billions to the health care industry and America’s tight budget.

Concluding Thoughts

By not teaching our children how to live a healthy, well-balanced life, we rob them of their well-being. Physical wellness is not just something that comes naturally to us—we have evolved in this world—we don’t have to do hard labor just to survive, we don’t live off our own land anymore. In other words, physical wellness is not inherent in our lifestyle anymore; it directly opposes it. Physical wellness requires teaching, just like learning a language that will be used throughout our entire lives. Physical education teachers “focus on the skills and knowledge needed to establish and sustain an active lifestyle” (Shape of the Nation Report).

Maybe the lack of physical education in schools is less of a gamble with our future than an outright dismissal of it.

Gambling with our Future, Part 1: An Alarming Downward Trend in America’s Concern for Physical Education

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of our two-partpe-infographic series about how physical education has been impacted by national budget cuts. To read Part 2, please click here.

As the nation’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year is enacted  and public services across the board fear deep cuts due to the joint select committee’s (some call it the “super committee”) failure to agree on how to lower the nation’s deficit in November, it’s an understatement to say that physical education has a tall, craggy mountain to climb in the coming years to improve our nation’s health—in more ways than one.

What’s been simmering in the bureaucratic stew of budget, debt, spending, cutting, regulating, and lawmaking of late? What are the implications for our children, our nation’s future?

It’s not news to anyone that the economic climate of the past half decade has been burdensome for all sectors, especially public education. According to the White House, between August of 2008 and August of 2011, 300,000 teaching jobs were lost—that’s 54 percent of all jobs lost in local government. A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that local government education lost 113,000 jobs in 2011 alone, accounting for 40 percent of job losses in government.

If automatic spending cuts are enacted for the 2013 fiscal year as a result of our polarized Congress’ inability to agree on budgetary issues, education faces $3 billion in cuts. That means additional teachers will lose jobs and programs will be cut. Historically, the first of which have been the arts and physical education.

This would throw salt on an already slow-to-heal wound: from sea to shining sea, each state is hurting enough.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business found that 44 percent of schools reduced elective offerings and 70 percent increased class sizes. In York, PA, arts and physical education classes were cut, forcing other teachers to implement these activities into their curriculum.

In Los Angeles, physical education class sizes rose to 80 students in some cases, making effective teaching nearly impossible. Only 31 percent of California students passed a state-wide physical fitness test last year, in part because of budget cuts wiped out physical education programs. In a 2011 survey released by the California State PTA, 75 percent of California PTA members said their children’s PE or sports programs were cut or reduced dramatically.

With over a third of the nation’s youth and adult population overweight or obese, now is not the time to do away with physical education or treat it as a frivolous, useless “elective.” The Shape of the Nation Report, a study conducted every five years by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association (AHA) states:
“Physical education classes focus on physical activity—running, dancing and other movement but physical education also includes health, nutrition, social responsibility, and the value of fitness throughout one’s life.”

Physical education gives our youth the necessary tools to remain healthy in many aspects throughout their lifetime. The downward trend in America’s health is clearly related to the downward trend of American education and the attitude that PE is not a core academic concern.

What are the implications of this devastating trend? Please stay tuned for Part 2, in which we will explore the many effects suffering physical education causes.

Education World India interview with SPARK Executive Director Paul Rosengard

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Bala Bhagavat, CEO of Education World India, recently sat down with SPARK’s very own Paul Rosengard to talk about the state of Physical Education in the US and around the world:

Bala: “Why is a structured PE and sports important in the school environment when US and Canadian cities have lot of free open playgrounds and parks for children and families?”

Paul: “This is an opportunity to differentiate physical activity (PA) and physical education (PE).  Young people need PA and unstructured play time, and the open playgrounds, parks, and other environments that you cite, enable and encourage PA, and thus, are vitally important.

Young people also need structured time in PE (taught by a properly credentialed and well-trained instructor) which is typically unavailable anywhere beyond the school setting.  PE is based on specific standards and benchmarks usually linked to age and grade level, and presented through sequential and progressive building blocks of compelling content and differentiated instruction.

PA is a component of PE however, studies show not all PE classes provide enough PA (insufficient frequency, duration, or intensity) to positively impact a child’s health.  Therefore, it should not be presumed that providing PE also provides adequate PA.  PE classes should be monitored to ensure students are engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at least 50% of class time.

Habits of wellness, particularly around behavior change techniques, are critical to teach young people so they can learn to be responsible for their own health (self-management) and understand how to maintain acceptable levels of PA throughout their lifetimes.

There is lot of PE and sports curriculum and lesson plans available on the web. Can a school use these as part of their formal curriculum?

There are and it’s terrific to have supplemental resources.  We encourage people to screen optional content before using by asking themselves if the activity is:

  • S =Safe:  Emotionally and physically?
  • E = Enjoyable
  • A = Active
  • D = Developmentally appropriate:  Aligned with standards, age, grade level?

These criteria are simple.  “Nurture the SEAD” and provide children with activity opportunities that are rich and relevant.

On-line, free activities should not be considered a worthy substitute or adequate replacement for research and standards based curriculum written in scope and sequence.  Rather it should be considered a supplemental addendum. “

Bala: “There seems to be shortage of Physical education teachers worldwide. Why do you think it is? What are the consequences? How do we address this problem?”

Paul: “Most people believe it’s a lack of money – although I’m not sure it’s a money problem entirely.  Perhaps it’s a priority problem?  There is money in any budget, however small and impacted it may be.  Ultimately, every budget I a pie that has to be divided.  My contention is that PE deserves a slice; maybe not the biggest slice, but it should be funded at the level of any other core subject.  Physical education is the only discipline that supports every content area – because the data strongly show that healthy kids are better learners.

Drawing the direct link between PA, quality PE, and academic learning is one way to garner support.  Another is to link PA and PE to healthcare costs.  A third is daily attendance.  There is strong data to show that healthier and more fit kids miss less school.  Schools often receive funds based (in part) by the numbers of students that attend each day (ADA = Average Daily Attendance).  Improving ADA means more money for education.”

Bala: “What in your opinion changes year to year that require a PE teacher to take refresher courses regularly?”

Paul: “My colleague Dr. Thom McKenzie says, ‘Professional development is not an inoculation, it’s a flu shot.’  It must be done regularly over time and teachers should be constantly driven to improve their craft.  There are skills to attain and polish and it does not matter if a teacher is relatively new or a veteran of many years.  Additionally, there is always new content, new approaches, and new technologies that can improve content and instruction.  Systematic professional development should also be linked to specific learning and performance objectives and teacher evaluations.  What is assessed is done.”

Bala: “How did SPARK PE manage to reach 10,000 schools?”

Paul: “Actually, we typically sell approx.. 12,000-19,000 curriculum manuals annually and train over 20,000 teachers in the U.S. alone.  We’re certain we’ve conducted full day (or more) workshops for well over 100,000 teachers since 1989.  How many schools that’s been we’re uncertain.  Moving SPARK from 8 schools in the original research study to where we are today is a combination of many factors, but the one I’ll cite is we’ve been fortunate to develop a team of passionate content experts, teacher trainers, and support staff and we’re very proud of everyone that helps us improve the health of kids everyday – our team and the teams of educators we have the pleasure of working with.  This moves beyond the U.S. and we’re particularly grateful to our friends in India who are helping us achieve our dream of SPARKing up more kids around the world.”

Bala: “What is your view on physical education and schools in India?”

Paul: “I wish I had first-hand experience at schools there to watch the children and view their teachers.  From what I understand, they have done an excellent job of adhering to SPARK protocols — and that’s reassuring.  We feel strongly that if teachers instruct SPARK the way we wrote it and use the instructional strategies we’ve developed, their children will be more active, fit, skilled, and enjoy PE more than traditional approaches.  Fidelity is key, and our friends in India who are running point on SPARK dissemination there have developed very systematic and monitored methodologies that foster fidelity.  Their strategies are enabling positive student health-related outcomes, and that makes me very happy and grateful for their efforts.”

Health Matters Summit and Howell Wechsler’s 5 Points

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

By Paul Rosengard

In January, I had the pleasure of attending the “Health Matters” summit in Indian Wells, CA sponsored by the Clinton Foundation.  They assembled a number of terrific speakers and panelists — a rich blend of scientists, business people who care about health and wellness, celebrities and VIP’s who actually walk the talk.

We owe our thanks to the Clinton Foundation for their genuine commitment to public health and future generations.  They’ve been gracious supporters of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation — an organization SPARK has worked with since their inception — that does terrific work helping schools develop more effective wellness policies and programs.

The wonderful Annika Sorenstam, our SPARK advocate and spokesperson, and Don Ochsenreiter (Executive Director) of the ANNIKA Foundation were there as well.  We’re grateful to Annika for mentioning SPARK and the terrific work we do together during her presentation during the session titled, “Building Healthier Communities.”

Howell Wechsler is the Director of DASH (Division of Adolescent and School Health) at CDC.  Wendy and I spoke with him the evening before he presented and we were laughing about his having only 3 min. to address the audience.  Howell spent a lot more than 3 min. trying to figure out what to say and told us he had his talk down to 5 min. and 20 seconds…

The next day his panel was moderated by Hillary Clinton during the section titled, “Raise the Bar for Healthy Schools.”  I thought Howell’s comments were terrific and want to share them with you.  Please help us spread the good word and pay this forward:

1.  Schools have got to be greatly involved in activating wellness.

– Young people face many health problems (obesity, teen pregnancy, violence, etc.).

– Schools did not create these problems and should not be expected to solve them on their own.

– But we can’t solve these problems without schools playing a strong role.

2.  Promoting health needs to be a fundamental part of the mission of schools.

– This notion is deeply rooted in American history.

– But it has been forgotten by many of today’s educators and policymakers.

– They obsess over standardized test scores to the exclusion of all else that is important for our young people.

– So school health programs are increasingly marginalized and typically among first things cut.

– Even though there is a strong and growing body of evidence documenting the links between student health and academic achievement and the positive impact that school health programs have on academic achievement.

3.  We know what needs to be done.

– We could always benefit from more research.

– But the truth is that we already have a ton of knowledge about exactly what schools need to do to have a strong impact on the health of students.

– The problem is a failure to implement that which we know works.

– CDC and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and others have tools that lay out a clear agenda of effective health promotion practices for schools.

– We know what needs to be done.  The science is strong.

4.  Promoting health needs to be integrated into school accountability requirements.

– It is not enough to do nice events like health fairs or fun runs.

– For those celebrities, sports stars, corporate leaders who want to help, dropping in for pretty photo ops is not going to lead to lasting improvements in students’ health behaviors.

– And we cannot depend on principals and teachers spontaneously embracing health promotion when all the pressures and incentives from above push in the other direction.

– We will only make progress if we systematically build into school governing practices strong accountability measures that require or incentivize schools to support health policies and programs.

– Measures such as requiring schools to include health objectives as part of their state-mandated school improvement plans, having health councils and health coordinators, conducting science-based assessments of their health policies and practices.

– To have meaningful impact, we’ve got to make these kinds of systemic changes.

5.  No progress will be made unless all of us speak up.

– As parents, students, teachers, health care workers, corporate leaders, as Americans…we all have an immense capacity to influence educational policies and practices in our communities and beyond.

– Everyone in this room probably agrees that schools should do more to promote health.

– But across the Nation, many of the people making decisions about school policies don’t get it.

– So it is up to all of us to cite the scientific evidence, and to speak loudly and strongly so those policy makers will understand that it is no longer acceptable to marginalize and cut school health programs.

– We will not make progress in activating wellness for the next generation unless we all speak up.

Winter’s No Excuse: Fun Outdoor Activities for the Season

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Winter is no reason to stay inside all day. Just snowshoeingbecause the sun is hiding doesn’t mean it’s time to hunker down and hibernate. During colder months, it is important to get the family outside and maintain activity even though there may be some frost on the ground. Besides, winter months bring on a whole new set of fun activities to explore.

Feed the Fowl

Many birds stick around for the winter, and these little friendly fowl are easy to spot on a snowy backdrop. Make your days brighter—and theirs, too—during the winter months by putting out bird feeders for your feathered friends. Send the kids out with binoculars to go search for birds and other wildlife in the neighborhood.

Treasure Hunts and Tag

Treasure hunts are also a great way to get the neighborhood kids running around. See if they can’t find certain items around the neighborhood. If it’s really snowy, maybe you can get them to identify certain neighborhood items under that white blanket. Or send the kids out for a game of tag or capture the flag. Giving them a reason to run around will keep them warm and happy throughout the winter months.

Go Ice Skating

Nothing says the holidays like bundling up the kids, lacing on the skates, and taking a spin on the ice. Most cities have annual ice rinks that open up when the winter season hits. Take the family out for a day downtown and finish it up by showing your moves on the ice and getting the family running around.

Snow Men, Sledding, Snow Angels and Snowball Fights

One of the best parts of the winter season is that cold, flaky ambush that falls from the sky. Adults, children, and pets alike enjoy this falling fun and the neighborhood’s transition into a powdery winter landscape is a great reason to get outside and play.

Building a snow man is an age-old tradition that starts with one small snowball and grows into a great afternoon of activity. Get your loved ones outside and build a snow buddy to guard your house for the winter. You can even make snow bricks, build an igloo, and create an entire winter wonderland in your own back yard.

Dragging a sled up a hill doesn’t even seem like exercise when it’s in anticipation of the fun slide back down. Sledding can bring hours of enjoyment to all ages. Grab a traditional sled, a saucer, or even a metal trash can lid and let it fly for hours of laughter.

Snowball fights are a great way to keep that throwing arm in shape over the winter. Get the family outside and build bunkers, organize teams, and start tossing around some chilly fun.

Skiing and Snowboarding

Skiing and snowboarding are picking up in popularity, and resorts are speckled across the country. Get out and active by heading to the mountains where you can practice your skills on the slopes and then hit the clubhouse for some hot chocolate and good conversation at the end of a long, jam-packed day of activity.


Snowshoeing is a lesser-known pastime that gets people outdoors in the colder months. Snowshoeing gives you a whole new perspective on the outdoors, and allows you the chance to make tracks on uncharted winter territory, and share some time with the winter wildlife.

Ice Hockey

What’s the one sport that’s made for the colder months? Hockey! Ice hockey is full of action and suspense. As the official winter sport of Canada and a popular U.S. pastime, professional games can be found throughout both Canada and the United States. Pick-up games can often be found on local ponds or simply played in neighborhood streets during the winter months.

Ice Fishing

When done safely on ice that is several inches thick and above, ice fishing can provide hours of winter fun. Ice fishers catch fish with lines and fish hooks by drilling a hole in the ice of a frozen body of water and dipping a line into the water below. Often sitting on a stool out in the open, ice fishing brings some action to those long winter months, and is a great reason to get outside and participate in the season. Just be sure to ice fish only in safe, designated areas.

The winter season can be a time to pursue new and exciting adventures. From fishing to hockey and scouting out birds, getting the family outside for the winter season should be as easy as pointing them toward the sleds, the snow boots, and the great outdoors.

photo courtesy of Hobbes vs. Boyle

New Year’s Resolution: How to Create an All-Around Healthy Family

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

A healthy, nurturing, and loving family does notCSH---mother-daughter happen all by itself. It takes a concerted effort from everyone in the household to create a family primed for a long future of growth and good times. Rolling into the New Year is a great time to renew your efforts to build love, participation, and education into every family moment. Make this year the time for nurturing your family environment into the happiest and most healthful it can be.

It’s important to be mindful of your own attitude and habits, as these are the attitudes and habits your children will emulate. Here are 12 ways to create a healthy and happy family in 2012:

  1. Teach love and respect. Treat others with love, respect, and a listening ear, and your children will pick up these habits for themselves.
  2. Be timely and orderly. If you respect household items, the use of money, and pick up after yourself, your children will follow suit. It can be helpful to have the entire family participate in household chores by making it an all-hands affair.
  3. Instill healthy habits through sports. Sports get your kids active, socializing, and learning how to participate and follow rules. Sports can be a great way for parents to get in some leisure activity as well. Adult leagues are cropping up all over as grown-ups revisit the fun of active competition.
  4. Eating healthy starts with healthy grocery shopping. Make a list each week that incorporates all of the food groups, and plan meals ahead of time that use a healthy combination of foods.
  5. Converse in the kitchen. The kitchen is also a great place to teach your children the importance of putting down that laptop, phone, or remote control and taking a break from technology. Kitchens are a great place to interact with your children, hear about their day, instill cooperation habits, and get your children participating in the healthy food choices you are setting out for them. Share at least one meal a day together to ensure that your family touches base at least once for every day of the week.
  6. Encourage interaction. Socialization is one part of growing up that is beginning to become more difficult as technology leaches time away from real verbal and physical interactions; not just for the children, but for adult family members as well. Hosting a game night during the week or one weekend day for outdoor activities such as a trip to the zoo or the beach can get both you and your kids out of the house and into more social settings.
  7. Watch for changes in behavior. Children and adults don’t always come right out and say what’s on their minds. Setting the family down and asking each person if there’s anything particularly bothering them lately, what struggles they are currently facing, or where they could use support is a great way to both touch base and also keep tabs on the health of the entire family.
  8. The power of laughter is a great thing to remember. Trying to insert a little bit of laughter and fun into every day is a great resolution to bring into the coming year. Find the humor in every situation and try not to get bogged down in negativity. Smiles are contagious, and your own fun attitude can lift the spirits of the whole household.
  9. Respect quiet time. An important part of every family is the need of each individual to have their own private time away from each other. As much as many people love to be together, privacy and alone time are important to each person’s feeling of individuality. We all need space and time for ourselves now and then. Realizing this and planning time for it can do wonders for creating a peaceful and grateful home environment.
  10. Encourage arts and entertainment. Sports are important for teaching children about exercise and cooperation, but arts and music are a great way to bring well-roundedness to each family member. Art classes and music can be a wonderful introduction to other interests.
  11. Clearly define family values. Knowing what’s really important to the family can help members make decisions that are on-par with a positive and close-knit family outlook. Making sure that values are well-known and understood can help each family member make healthy family choices.
  12. Make time for relaxation. Down-time helps everyone relax and re-orient themselves.Constantly running around can begin to take a toll on family members. Finding time to sit and relax, read a good book, watch an educational movie together, or simply wind down with good conversation can help everyone de-stress and reinvigorate themselves.

Creating a healthy family begins with love, respect, and participation. Devoting time and effort to making sure each family member has an active voice and responsibility in family choices is a great way to maintain a healthy and happy family unit both in this year, and in those years to come.