Physical education teachers face new demands

November 17, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

Washington County Public Schools physical education teachers for the first time this year must split the time they spend with elementary school students between teaching them health and teaching them physical education.

In past years, elementary school classroom teachers taught health, a curriculum that includes such subjects as drugs and nutrition, but the instructional mandates set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act have pulled health out of the classroom and placed it in the gymnasium, said Edward Masood, the school system's director of arts, health, physical education and athletics.

"Elementary school teachers were feeling overwhelmed," he said.

Some children who previously had about 50 minutes per week of physical activity in school last year now spend about half that time learning health.


The state recommends that students in grades four and five get 90 minutes of health each week, but Washington County physical education teachers only have those students for an average of 40 minutes per week, he said.

Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said that according to the Maryland State Department of Education, there is no time requirement for physical education.

"The time just doesn't exist," Masood said.

He said students in kindergarten through third grade spend about 30 minutes with their physical education teachers per week.

"(Physical education teachers) are worried about kids having a lot of pressure on them and being sedentary in school," Masood said.

He said that in some cases, the school system's 29 elementary school physical education teachers alternate weeks teaching health and physical education.

Eastern Elementary School physical education teacher Darrell Eichelberger said he's in an ideal situation under the circumstances: He shares the school's gym with another physical education teacher, and they alternate teaching health during the week in teachers' classrooms.

Eichelberger pointed to a thick binder containing physical education curriculum and to a poster tacked on his office wall outlining the Michigan Model for Comprehensive School Health Education, which the school system uses for its health curriculum.

"We can't do the complete Michigan Model," he said. "I'd have to take it away from physical education and with all the trends about obesity and health problems, I like to get them moving as much as I can."

Clear Spring Elementary School physical education teacher Penny Lipinski said she hasn't even touched the health curriculum so far this year because she wasn't given much time to plan for her new duty.

"I'm going to try to add as much as I can," she said.

Once cooler weather sets in, she hopes to bring more health lessons into the gymnasium.

Lincolnshire Elementary School physical education teacher Cindy Neugebauer is a member of a school system study group looking at the health curriculum.

Since this year is the first time physical education teachers have been required to teach health, they will not be asked to record grades for the subject until all the kinks are worked out, she said.

Neugebauer and Eichelberger said they're teaching health-related fitness, which incorporates some elements of health, such as how cardiovascular systems work, into physical education.

Neugebauer sees her students for 55 minutes per week, 15 of which she spends teaching health-related fitness.

About four years ago, Neugebauer would see a group of students twice a week for about 40 minutes each period, which is about the amount of time Eichelberger now sees his students.

She tells her students that they need to exercise outside of her classes, but she said they don't exercise as much as she'd like.

"I need a health teacher, or let me see them twice as long as I'm seeing them," she said.

Masood agreed.

"We need more time" to effectively implement both physical education and health, he said.

According to state regulations, equal importance is placed on teaching children the fundamentals of physical education and the basics of health, he said.

The current requirements for the amount of time needed on each subject existed before the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program and before the No Child Left Behind mandates, Masood said.

"They still exist, even in view of the fact that the pressures are different," he said.

Cindy Young, physical education teacher at Salem Avenue Elementary School, said her time with students has been cut from 80 minutes to 60 minutes per week.

She said her students spend about 20 minutes of that time doing physical activity, which is the minimum time requirement for aerobic activity to provide benefits.

More than half of her time is spent teaching students about such things as drugs, bus safety, playground safety and food groups, Young said.

Some of the health lessons and physical education lessons can overlap, but it's not always possible, she said.

Even the physical education curriculum has shifted its focus from learning to play games to more seat work, Young said.

"The number one health problem in children is obesity," she said. "I think we're hurting them in the long run."

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