A Physical Education

Elective gym classes are motivating students to think lifetime fitness rather than skills

Elective gym classes are motivating students to think lifetime fitness rather than skills

May 20, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

Some of Ann Whisner's students thought signing up for physical education class would ease their workload at South Hagerstown High School.

Then they found out what's involved.

Every day, Whisner gets their hearts pumping with a variety of activities - step aerobics, weightlifting and power walking, to name a few.

"It's not easy. A lot of people come in here and they're not in the best of shape," said Denise Simon, 15.


On the other hand, it isn't as structured as the gym classes they were required to take when they were underclassmen. Teachers emphasize lifetime activities rather than skills.

Educators said they want these lessons to stick with the students for the rest of their lives.

"We hope in the long run we can make them more fit and more well people," said Eugene "Yogi" Martin, supervisor of health education, physical education and athletics for the Washington County Board of Education.

Washington County students need one credit of physical education to graduate and they normally take it their freshman year. Sophomores usually take the one-credit health course requirement, he said.

Washington County schools offer two elective phys ed classes for upperclassmen: aerobics and weight training.

The number of Washington County students has steadily increased over the last five years, Martin said.

During the 1997-98 school year, 49 percent of the high school students were enrolled in physical education. This year, that proportion is up to 53.8 percent, he said.

"I'd love to have even a greater number of students involved," he said.

Back in the early 1990s, when physical education was combined with driver's education, the enrollment was up to 60 percent, he said.

Part of the recent rebound is due to the advent of block scheduling, which makes room for more elective classes, he said.

Many of the students who elect to take phys ed are athletes who want to stay in shape for their sport during the off season, he said.

That's why Brittany Nigh, 16, signed up for Whisner's class a second time.

"I thought it was going to be easy but it wasn't," she said.

Physical education options vary in schools across the Tri-State area.

At Greencastle-Antrim (Pa.) High School, students are required to take phys ed every year for one semester. There are no electives, said Chuck Tinninis, chair of the physical education department.

Students learn all kinds of activities - including Tae Bo, archery and ping pong - along with more traditional team sports like volleyball, basketball and softball.

"We just feel students need to be active. We want to stress physical fitness," he said.

Chambersburg (Pa.) High School has similar requirements for its students. There is also an elective phys ed class for students who want to take gym year-round, said physical education teacher Jay Lefever.

Only about 44 of the school's 1,700 students are enrolled, he said.

At Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School, students are required to take one full year of physical education, physical education teacher Sophia Fincham said.

There's only one elective phys ed class and that's weightlifting, she said.

"I think electives are good if you have the facilities available. I think it has to be geared toward lifetime activities," she said.

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