Archive for July, 2013


What Makes Quality Physical Education?

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Our friends at Kaiser Permanente’s “Thriving Schools” initiative recently interviewed our own Paul Rosengard, Executive Director of SPARK in a three-part series on Quality Physical Education. We’ve combined all three sections and posted them below. The original articles are posted HERE.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: What role does physical education play in the fight against childhood obesity?

Paul Rosengard: An important one!  The Centers for Disease Control summarized existing data and research and school-based Physical Education (PE) received a “Strongly Recommended” rating as an intervention. Quality PE programs have been proven effective in increasing physical activity levels of students, and teaching important fitness and motor skills. Terrific PE programs also teach behavioral skills so students learn to be responsible for their own health and wellness in a variety of environments — and for a lifetime. Now is PE THE solution to the overweight and obesity crisis – no. There are so many other important factors that contribute to the problem. However, a lot of young people have some PE during the week giving us a “captive audience” to assess, prescribe, and evaluate.

To learn more about physical education as a solution to childhood obesity, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Do all students have access to physical education?

If we examine PE requirements in different states, counties, cities and rural areas, the short answer is no. Even within the same K-12 school district the frequency and duration of PE classes can vary greatly in elementary, middle and high schools. Many elementary students around the country have PE only once or twice a week. This is insufficient dosage to improve the health of children and adolescents. Oftentimes PE is not taught by a PE Specialist – someone with a degree in the subject that has successfully completed teaching preparation coursework and earned a credential or similar certification.

It’s important that students in grades K-12 have PE every day, instructed by a credentialed physical education specialist. The data show that the PE specialist is the best provider of instructional quantity and quality.

To learn more about access to physical education and what you can do to help, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Aren’t all physical education programs basically the same?

Not by a longshot.  Studies of physical education show that content and instruction can vary greatly from class to class, teacher to teacher. There are many outstanding PE programs across the country taught by dedicated and hardworking subject matter experts. And, like all subjects, there are PE programs that fall far short. As a result, students may not accumulate enough minutes in moderate to vigorous activity. While there are National and often State Standards for PE — what children should know and be able to do at grade level — they are rarely adhered to or reinforced. While we believe physical education is a core subject, it is rarely viewed that way and administrators don’t always hold their PE teachers accountable for effective and efficacious instruction.

To learn more about National Standards and Guidelines for physical education, click here to visit the National Association for Sport and Physical Education website.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: What is Quality Physical Education?

If you ask 10 different professionals in our field, you’ll likely receive 10 different answers! Since you asked me, I’ll share our philosophy which was developed by one of our SPARK Principals, Dr. Thom McKenzie. It’s HOPE:  Health Optimizing Physical Education.  This is a positive learning environment where students learn fitness and motor skills via a sequential and progressive path towards becoming physically educated people.  Participation is individualized, yet there are opportunities to accumulate movement experiences with partners and groups. The emphasis is more on cooperation than competition, and developing competencies in lifelong activities rather than traditional team sports.  For example, high school physical education looks more like a health club than an 11 on 11 soccer game with 1 ball being touched more by the most fit and skilled students. HOPE advocates for all students to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 50% of class time and to promote physical activity during and outside of the PE class.

To learn more about HOPE:  Health Optimizing Physical Education, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: How can I tell if my school provides quality physical education?

Here are 3 suggested steps:

1. Speak with your school’s PE teacher(s).  Ask her/him to:

  • Tell you how often students have PE – frequency and duration
  • See their Yearly Plan (what they teach and when).
  • Show you how their program aligns with their District, State or National Standards.
  • Explain how they demonstrate student learning to those standards via assessment and evaluation.

2. Speak with your school’s Principal. Let her/him know you support:

  • Quality, daily PE for every student taught by a credentialed specialist.
  • Curriculum that has been proven to work and last – evidence-based.
  • A budget that allows teachers to replenish equipment so students have plenty for PE, recess, after school — activity throughout the day on campus.
  • Ongoing professional development and new resource acquisition for the school’s PE teachers.
  • Grades for physical education that are factored into a student’s grade point average.

3. Attend school-board meetings and express your support for quality, daily physical education taught by credentialed specialists for all students in all grades.

Click here to download the suggested next steps to see if your school provides quality physical education.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: How can I to help improve the physical education program in my school?

Here are 3 things every parent can do:

1. ADVOCATE for daily physical education in all grades — delivered by a credentialed physical educator.

2. ENSURE teachers are aligning content and instruction to achieve a goal of 50% or better MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) in every class and that they are promoting staying physical activity away from class.

3. INSIST teachers have access to current resources and professional development opportunities so they can learn new, innovative content and teaching strategies.

Let your voice be heard!  Speak to your school’s PE teacher(s) and Principal about your child’s PE program TODAY.  If your school’s program does not meet these standards, encourage leaders to learn more about evidence-based programs that can provide new resources and training for teachers:

Click here to download the 3 things every parent can do to help improve the physical education in your school.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Are there any resources available to help advocate for Quality physical education?

Yes, there are many, click here to access them.

County Fare: Dishes to Ditch When Enjoying Your Local Fair

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Another summer means another county fair! People flock to their local fairgrounds for some fun rides, interesting exhibits, challenging games, and a handy helping of food and drink. While summer does mean sitting back and letting loose, a dearth of fair food isn’t conducive to a healthy human body. Here are some of the foods you might see at the fair and some tips to keep your family healthy without sacrificing their fun.

A Feast of Fat

Spread among the rides and exhibits are the food vendors, who, for many, are the main attraction at the fair. Vendors serve the general tender vittles you’d find at the fair—funnel cake, cotton candy, pizza—but there are also interesting combinations you would have never even considered. Unique? Yes. But healthy? Not even. Some of the foods making an appearance at fairs around the country include:  sloppy-joe-donut

  • Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe: This is the headliner at the San Diego County Fair and is sure to show up elsewhere too: sloppy Joe mixture piled between two halves of a glazed donut. It’s the food that creates an equal mix of disgust and intrigue. In terms of flavor, savory and sweet go together well, but the ingredients are nowhere near healthy. A glazed donut consists of dough fried in oil and topped with sugar. The sloppy part—the meat, the sauce, the cheese—is high in fat and calories, and even sugar too.
  • Bacon: The world’s favorite pork product always seems to be a theme at the fair. The crispy, savory strips work their way into just about everything, from bacon cotton candy to deep-fried bacon-wrapped pickles. Various studies show that bacon is filled with sodium, fat, and cholesterol, none of which are good for your health. While it’s not bad to eat a few strips here and there, avoid bacon binges.
  • Bacon beer: Despite the name, this isn’t a hop-filled alcoholic beverage. It’s simply a bit of root beer served with a bacon swizzle stick. Nothing fancy, but the salty, fatty bacon mixed with the sweet, bubbly root beer makes for an interesting concoction, but the soda will do more damage than the pork. Soda contains caffeine, rots your teeth, and reduces bone density over time. If you’re not much of a soda drinker, now is a lousy time to start.
  • Deep fried cookie dough: Cookies are a delightful treat, a comfort food for whatever mood you may be in. Raw cookie dough is a guilty pleasure, but it presents a fair danger to your health. For one, raw eggs can potentially contain salmonella. Store-bought cookie dough generally contains pasteurized ingredients, killing off bacteria, but the flour in the cookie dough isn’t always treated. The flour can harbor various bacteria, including the lovely E. coli virus. Cooking the dough kills any bacteria, but the deep frying process won’t always cook the dough all the way through. Combine that with the sugar, processed carbs, and oil, and you’re looking at one unhealthy treat. It’s not worth the risk and you would be better off getting a fully baked cookie later.
  • Strawberry Cheesecake Funnel Cake: Funnel cake is a staple of fair food, and everyone loves strawberry cheesecake. It was only a matter of time until the two would meet. Strawberries, strawberry cream, and whipped cream are dolloped onto a hot funnel cake with a light dusting of powdered sugar. If funnel cake wasn’t already unhealthy enough, adding more sugar and calories to it certainly did the trick.
  • Hot dogs: Hot dogs are highly processed, contain lots of sodium and fat, and are made with all kinds of different “parts” that you might not want to eat.

Keeping It Healthy

So how do you enjoy the fair without putting on pounds or filling your veins with grease?

  • Go to taste, not to eat. Don’t go to the fair planning to eat a meal. Plan to sample some small dishes. Save your stomach and your money for food outside of the fairgrounds.
  • Go for the healthier options. It’s not all deep fried and sloppy. Many fairs also serve gourmet salads, paninis, and other healthier options.
  • Sharing is caring. If you go with your family or a group of people, share single servings. Instead of getting Krispy Kreme sloppy Joes for each member of the family, get one for the whole family to share. You get to taste it and experience its bizarre-ness without being weighed down.
  • Focus on fun. So eating food is definitely fun, but the fair has a ton of other stuff aside from food and drinks. Shop for knick-knacks and home accessories. Learn about farm animals at the petting zoo. Try your hand at one of the many fair games, or ride the Ferris wheel for some amazing views of your surroundings.

The fair is all about family fun, with or without the fried food, so stay safe and enjoy yourself!

Why Should You Be a PE Advocate?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Physical education (PE) is an integral part of ensuring a healthy future, not just for our kids but for the country as a whole. PE isn’t just about requiring kids to pull on some gym clothes and work up a sweat for an hour during the school day. It’s a key component to total well-being, healthy development, and a successful future. And not to mention that increased physical activity has proven to improve learning and lead to higher test scores in the classroom.

Read on to find out just why (and how!) you should be an advocate for PE in our schools.Increasing Participation- Spark PE

Benefits of PE

Take a gander at just a few PE benefits to see why physical education affects a lot more than just physical fitness.

  • Sayonara, sedentary lifestyle. Kids are already required to sit for hours during the school day, and that’s not including time spent before and after school sitting around—watching TV, hanging out, and even sleeping. The effects of a sedentary lifestyle include increased risk of being overweight or obese, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes. These are expensive health issues that set kids up for a variety of other problems into their adulthood. PE gives kids a chance to move around.
  • Increased attention span/academic performance. Physical activity helps to foster better academic performance. For one, having an outlet to release physical energy helps kids to focus better while in the class room. Physiologically, physical activity increases oxygen to the brain, increases brain neurotransmitters, and increases neurotrophins that aid in the survival of neurons in areas responsible for learning, memory, and higher thinking. PE has been shown to increase test scores, academic engagement, and brain development.
  • Confidence and social skills. On a physiological level, exercise increases neurotransmitters responsible for putting us in a good mood. Over time, exercise increases confidence by helping kids to feel better about their bodies. Practicing a skill and improving (shooting a 3-pointer, running a fast mile, even jump-roping 20 times in a row instead of 15) gives kids a confidence boost and reminds them that with hard work and consistent practice, they can achieve anything. Regular physical activity has been shown to decrease risky behaviors like partaking in drinking and drugs, too.
  • Lifelong health. Physical education isn’t just about getting in that physical activity for a few hours per week. Quality physical education programs teach kids how to stay healthy for life.

These are only a few reasons we should all care deeply about whether or not our kids are getting the PE they deserve. But what can you do to help?

How to be a PE Advocate

Being a PE advocate means speaking up and making sure your child’s PE program is adequate. How can you do this?

  1. Arm yourself with the right tools. Check out the PE Advocacy Resources to familiarize yourself with the facts & myths about PE in schools as well as gain an understanding of what resources are at your disposal.
  2. Talk to the PE teachers. Ask how often PE occurs, and for how long. Ask to see their teaching plan for the year. Make sure their program aligns with national standards. Ask about how students are evaluated based on these standards.
  3. Talk to the principal. Make sure the principal and other school officials know how important PE is to you and your children. Let him or her know that you support quality PE taught by a professional with credentials, that you support evidence-based PE curriculum that has been developed with research, that you think adequate budget dollars must go to PE, that you believe PE teachers should have access to new and improved resources and tools, that you want PE grades to be factored into overall GPA.
  4. Talk to the school board. Attend school board meetings, and make sure your voice is heard. Get the community involved. Speak for what you believe in; what you believe is best for your children and children everywhere.

Being an advocate is being a supporter. Being a supporter for quality, evidence-based physical education means supporting a healthy childhood, adolescence, and adulthood for your kids and the kids of your neighbors and friends. And that means supporting a healthier future for all of us.

Talk to your kids, their teachers, and school leaders today to make sure PE is a priority. Every parent wants nothing more than the lasting health and well-being of their children, and PE is a great place to start.

Check out SPARK’s other advocacy resources for help.