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It counts as PE, but it's a stretch

First-graders Jashaun Young 6, right, exercises with Antonio Gunn, 6, on his left, Jaylen Rodriguez, 6, center in back, Christian Tyler, 7, far left, and Jesse Long, 7, in back on right, recently at Broward Elementary in Tampa. The Legislature didn’t provide money to hire more PE teachers so Hillsborough teachers have squeezed exercises into crowded schedules. Most elementary students have the same amount of formal PE instruction as last year — a half-hour session twice a week.

CARRIE PRATT | Times

First-graders Jashaun Young 6, right, exercises with Antonio Gunn, 6, on his left, Jaylen Rodriguez, 6, center in back, Christian Tyler, 7, far left, and Jesse Long, 7, in back on right, recently at Broward Elementary in Tampa. The Legislature didn’t provide money to hire more PE teachers so Hillsborough teachers have squeezed exercises into crowded schedules. Most elementary students have the same amount of formal PE instruction as last year — a half-hour session twice a week.

It didn't take Florida school districts long to find loopholes in the new mandate for daily PE time for elementary students.

When the law went into effect last fall, some — including Hillsborough — began counting 5-minute exercise breaks and short walks around campus as exercise.

Others, like Pinellas, offer old-style PE, but at a cost: doubled- and tripled-up classes often staffed by noncertified PE teachers.

Neither strategy for meeting the 2007 requirement for daily doses of PE equaling 150 minutes a week was the intent of Gov. Charlie Crist, an avid exerciser who made the legislation a priority of his first year in office.

And once lawmakers caught on to efforts that meet the letter of the law but not its spirit, they responded in less time than it takes a fifth-grader to run the quarter-mile.

Sen. Lee Constantine, who sponsored last year's bill, filed a new bill stipulating at least 30 minutes a day of consecutive PE instruction.

The proposed legislation got unanimous approval from its final Senate committee last week and is headed to the chamber for a vote.

"The flexibility we gave schools before was being misused," said Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs. "With this bill, we're not trying to take away flexibility, but it's intended to ensure you get a certain amount of time that is extended PE."

• • •

Like most teachers, Michelle Sadaphal at Tampa's Broward Elementary has worked hard to add PE time into her crowded schedule. Eyeing the first-graders sitting in a circle around her on a recent morning, she announced it was time for an activity break.

"Words begin with a sound," Sadaphal said, reading from an activity card. "Watch us learn as we move around."

At her direction — "Dance!" — arms fly and little bellies wiggle.

"What does d-d-dance start with?" she asks.

"D!" the students reply.

For five minutes, the kids practice clapping, flying, jumping, marching, lunging and high-fiving. Then the activity break ends.

It may not be what lawmakers had in mind, but Sadaphal says it's making a difference.

"It really helps keep them focused," she said.

For Sadaphal and others, the 150-minute requirement initially touched off a scramble. It wasn't as simple as putting kids into more PE classes.

The reason? Money, says Steve Vanoer, the district supervisor for physical education. The Legislature didn't provide money to hire more PE teachers. So most elementary students have the same amount of formal PE instruction as last year — a half-hour session twice a week.

Hillsborough has resisted doubling or tripling the size of classes, fearing they would become too big for meaningful activity. Instead, officials created strategies like age-appropriate lesson plans for teachers to use in classrooms.

Alice Walke, a PE teacher at the MOSI Partnership School who helped write Hillsborough's plan, welcomed the new attention on fitness, which includes information on nutrition. But she acknowledges things could be better.

"I would like to have the kids moving more," Walke said. "At the same time, that they're getting the health and nutrition is absolutely beneficial."

• • •

Pinellas took a different route, choosing to stick to a plan that has allowed elementary kids to receive daily PE instruction for the past 30 years. The catch: They group several classes together and rely on PE assistants for supervision.

The downside, says Walsingham Elementary PE teacher Robert Sinibaldi, is that when a school sends out 180 students with two teachers and two PE assistants, regardless of how competent those assistants are, it raises quality concerns.

"We're not a recreation program," said Sinibaldi, a National Board Certified teacher who has taught PE for 28 years. "We're trying to take them from Point A to Point B just like the teacher who's teaching them English."

Karen Dowd, executive director for the Florida Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport, said safety also becomes an issue.

"The statistics are clear," Dowd said. "The more students in relation to the teacher, the higher the incidence of accident and injury. Not only that, the children don't have any fun."

Ensuring that kids stay focused — and yes, enjoying themselves in PE class — is important, says Linda S. Fairman, a physical education teacher at Cross Bayou Elementary in Pinellas Park.

But her PE class is more than jumping jacks and dodgeball. A portion of the 30 minutes is spent demonstrating technique and explaining why physical activity is important. It's necessary, even though it might appear that the kids are just standing around.

"If you don't do that," said Fairman, a 28-year veteran and a finalist for Pinellas teacher of the year in 2003, "the lesson is lost."

• • •

Former New York Mets trainer Larry Mayol admits he doesn't know much about the inner workings of how schools divvy up a child's day. One thing he knows all too well is that over time, more young people are coming to his Largo-based sports and training rehabilitation facility with tight hamstrings and bunched-up hip flexors.

The cause, Mayol says, is poor posture, a result of spending too many hours hunched over a computer screen. The cure? Good, old-fashioned exercise.

"The bottom line is movement," Mayol said. "You've got to get them moving."

Few educators would disagree. But for teachers like Walsingham Elementary's Sinibaldi, funding is a real problem.

"It's good that the governor came up with this," Sinibaldi said. "But without any financial backing, it's kind of stuck in the water."

Vanoer, the Hillsborough PE supervisor, has even bigger worries now that legislators are trying to close the loophole that allowed the district to steal minutes here and there throughout the day for physical activity. He realizes if the new mandate passes, those schools already doing their best to meet the current law will have to come up with something better.

Sand Vanoer: "That's going to be a challenge."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler contributed to this report.

A typical 30-minute PE session at Cross Bayou Elementary School

Walking from the classroom to the PE field3 minutes

Stretching/warming up5 minutes

Running a quarter mile4 minutes

Instructional time*15 minutes

Walking back to the classroom3 minutes

*This includes the teacher's explanation of the activity and the activity itself, which could be passing a basketball, shooting hoops or kicking a soccer ball.

Dale Mabry Elementary: How one school fits in 150 minutes of PE for fourth-graders each week

PE class60 minutes

Teacher-directed PE60 minutes

Movement in classroom20 minutes

Health education10 minutes

Meal diaries, nutritional Web sites, activitiesabout 5 minutes

>>FAST FACTS

Dale Mabry Elementary:
How one school fits in 150 minutes of PE for fourth-graders each week

PE class: 60 minutes

Teacher-directed PE: 60 minutes

Movement in classroom: 20 minutes

Health education: 10 minutes

Meal diaries, nutritional Web sites,
activities: about 5 minutes

It counts as PE, but it's a stretch 04/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 8:03am]

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