On October 21, the physical education advocacy community lost a great hero and mentor.
Carol M. White was many things in her life—a teacher, a congressional aide, a wife, a mother. Though White passed at the far-too-young age of 66, her legacy will live on from the important work she did advocating for quality, standards-based physical education programs in schools.
White was instrumental in the passing of the Physical Education for Progress (PEP) Act that was introduced in 1999. Her voice was so strong when it came to the legislation that it was later renamed in her honor to the Carol M. White Physical Education for Progress Act.
PEP: Funding Fit Children
White was always vocal about her belief that physical education (PE) should be a right for all American children and that it was vital to healthy lives and longevity. For PE programs to be given their proper credit and resources, White knew they needed backing on the federal level. As congressional aide, then Chief of Staff, to former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, she helped draft legislation that authorized an initial $400 million in grants so that local education organizations could build and maintain physical education programs.
Since the funds were enacted in 2002, over $800 million total in grants have been distributed out to physical education programs across the nation to in public, private and home school settings. The grants are available to K-12 programs and can be used to purchase instructional materials, professional development services, and content-matched equipment in an effort to help districts align their programs to State Physical Education Standards. As a direct result of these funds, millions of children have been introduced to the benefits of enhanced physical education and have experienced more inclusive, active, and enjoyable PE classes.
A Mission about More than Money
The money itself was not the only benefit of the act’s passage. Within the legislation were Congressional findings that raised public awareness on the great need for PE in the lives of American children. Some of those included statements about how:•
- Physical education improves self-esteem, behavior, independence, and relationships in children.
- Physical education gives the overall health of children a boost by improving bone development, cardiovascular stamina, muscular strength, posture, and flexibility.
- Physical education encourages healthy lifestyle habits and positive use of free time.
There were also some humbling statistics within the act that ultimately led to its passage as a matter of public health. Based on figures from 1999, those statistics were:
- Diseases related to obesity cost the U.S. more than $1 billion annually.
- Less than 1 in 4 children get the recommended 20 minutes of vigorous activity in a given day.
- Poor diet and sedentary lifestyles cause over 300,000 U.S. deaths every year.
- The percentage of overweight children has doubled in the past 30 years.
- Children who are exposed to daily physical activity programs remain healthier throughout their adult lives.
- Adults of a healthy weight and fitness level have significantly fewer risk factors when it comes to strokes and heart attacks.
Within the act were these words that were undoubtedly influenced by White:
“Every student in our nation’s schools, from kindergarten through grade 12, should have the opportunity to participate in quality physical education. It is the unique role of quality physical education programs to develop the health-related fitness, physical competence, and cognitive understanding about physical activity for all students so that the students can adopt healthy and physically active lifestyles.”
Necessary Funding and a Legacy of Hope
Though she could not predict the recession years that followed her insistence on PEP’s passage, those funds became invaluable to the many schools and programs that needed them to keep physical education initiatives from vanishing due to budget cuts. The money from PEP grants has not just been used for PE program “extras”—in some cases, it has meant the difference between closing a program and keeping it running for children. To White and many other PE advocacy groups, teaching kids healthy habits and how to live active lifestyles was a right, like learning how to read or write—not a fringe component of education.
SPARK is just one of the many organizations that believe in what White stood for when it came to the fight against issues like childhood obesity. Tom Cove, CEO of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), and Jim Baugh, Founder of PHIT America, worked hand in hand with White and continue to fight for PEP funding. SPARK is a proud sponsor of PHIT America and supports the efforts of SFIA and others to keep PEP alive.
In order to counteract the growing sedentary nature of American childhood, White knew that PE had to be an integral part of academics and not viewed as optional learning. Because of people like White speaking up, public awareness about the role of PE has increased. By using her influence in a positive way, White forever impacted the many children who have already benefitted from PEP grants—and the many more to come.
Thank you, Carol M. White. May your lasting contributions to physical education long be realized and remembered.
Help support the PEP grant! Click Here to send a letter to your representative to support PEP funding.