Have you been spending more time in physical education class lately? If so, you’re not alone.
Across the country, many states are increasing physical education (PE) requirements in response to some unhealthy statistics. The number of overweight adolescents has tripled in the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the first time in U.S. history, members of the current generation (that means you!) could have shorter life spans than their parents will.
That’s scary stuff. Maybe even scarier are the results of a study from Cornell University, which revealed that increasing time spent in physical education doesn’t necessarily produce a healthier, more fit student body.
The fact is, traditional PE activities (think team sports such as kickball and floor hockey) don’t always amount to a real workout and often aren’t activities that motivate kids to continue on their own.
All that is starting to change. A number of schools have started to increase not just the quantity but also the quality of time teens spend in PE class. The new approach is about giving teens the tools they need to keep fit long after they graduate. Here, we profile four schools that are leading the way to give physical education the ultimate makeover.
Carl Sandburg Middle School, Levittown, Pa.
Carl Sandburg students know that some of the best ways to stay fit happen in the water. They learn the basics of canoeing and kayaking by paddling around the school swimming pool, and many then take those activities to the great outdoors. “I like kayaking because it is a lifelong activity that you can do at any time and at almost any age,” says Bridget, 14. And Jen, also 14, prefers to work out in the water: “Water aerobics energizes and refreshes you…. [It is] a fun way to exercise and stay in shape.”
Back on land, a program in orienteering teaches students the basics of navigation–including map reading and the use of a compass–in an activity that exercises their bodies and minds. Instructor Terry Martian says that she and her fellow teachers “hope that students will find activities that they enjoy and then choose to do those for the rest of their lives.”
Always Time For Fitness
Hortonville High School, Hortonville, Wis.
- What’s the best day of the week to get fit? At Hortonville, Workout Wednesdays give students the chance to build muscular endurance, strength, and flexibility though a series of targeted exercises. Students can receive a computerized “Fitnessgram,” which helps teens set individual plans to work toward achieving and maintaining a “Healthy Fitness Zone” throughout the semester.
- Fitness at Hortonville doesn’t stop when the school day ends. The Cardio Room–where students can use treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes and even play Dance, Dance, Revolution–remains open after classes let out. “It’s like having our own fitness club here at school,” says Jessica, a 17-year-old senior.
- If that’s not enough, archery, bowling, and fly-fishing are just a few other activities in which teens can participate. “I hope students remember the fun they had in the classes,” says teacher Marcia Schmidt, “and will participate in [these] activities long after they leave school to be healthy adults.”
Surf On Turf
A. G. West Black Hills High School, Olympia, Wash.
Do you think you need to live near the ocean to go surfing? Think again. In phys ed class at Black Hills, experts in a new sport called street surfing–a combination of snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing–teach teens how to “surf” on solid ground by riding a wave board. While they’re at it, students work core muscles and improve their balance. Freshman Shelby Kostelecky enjoyed the activity so much that she now uses a wave board at home.
Teens here know that staying active outside of school is important. A student organization called the Fit Club organizes Friday night activities, such as badminton. There is also a 5-mile after-school run. “I started out thinking I could never run 5 miles,” says Fit Club president Katherine Swarthout, a senior. “Now, I’m planning to run a half-marathon.”
Seaholm High School, Birmingham, Mich.
At Seaholm, PE is all about choices. Students begin by mastering the basics (individual and team sports, weight training and heart-rate monitor training, aquatics, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation) in a course called Personal Fitness. Afterward, they can pick from an array of electives with serious real-world value.
Students who choose the American Red Cross lifeguard-training course can complete all the requirements to become certified lifeguards–including using a heart defibrillator–during school hours. Sophomore Amanda Smith used her certification to land a summer job at a local country club and made a life-saving rescue less than three weeks later. “It served as confirmation that my training was so much more than a good grade,” she says. “I was entrusted with the skills needed to save another human being.”
Scuba diving is another awesome elective. Students master nearly all the skills necessary to become scuba certified, and they learn a thing or two about marine biology and underwater photography. Daniel Mead plans to use the skills he gained to become a scuba instructor and commercial diver. “My interest in scuba has increased with each dive I make,” says Mead. “After completing my first open water dive … I knew I had found a hobby I could enjoy for the rest of my life.”
10 Ways to Keep Fit Outside School
If your school’s phys ed program just isn’t enough for you, combine fitness with fun by trying the following activities after school or on weekends.
- Go for a nature hike at an outdoor recreation center.
- Take the family pet for a walk or jog.
- Get some friends together to adopt a highway, park, or beach to keep it clean.
- If it’s raining, head to the shopping center and take part in a mall walk.
- Enter a “fun run” or a walkathon for a good cause.
- Design and build a fitness trail for your local community.
- Check out the facilities at the local Y or recreation center.
- Gather a group and head to an indoor ice or roller skating rink.
- Participate in a martial arts class.
- Put on some music and dance your way through your weekly chores.