Gym classes and recess have been cut at many Clark County districts as pressure has increased to focus on state testing requirements, with some students getting as little as one session a month.
The state has no requirements for how much time students must spend in physical education, leading to wide variations between districts. Some students in Clark County attend gym as much as every three days while Springfield students go to one or two classes per month.
That’s led the Springfield City School District and the Clark County Combined Health District to create more opportunities for those students, including adding more gym teachers next year.
The Springfield district must focus on instructional time — especially catching up children who are behind — due to its low performance on the state’s academic standards, Superintendent Bob Hill said.
“There’s too much that we’re asked to do by the federal government, state government and state law to not spend the majority of our time focusing on instruction,” Hill said. “In association with what we’re expected to do and what we’re measured on, I don’t see a lot of leeway in the day to do it.”
But children who are more physically active typically perform better on tests and are more likely to be active adults, according to the the Society of Health and Physical Educators of America’s 2016 Shape of the Nation report.
Communities can improve public health by increasing physical education in schools, said Wright State University Professor Kevin Lorson, president of the Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
“We feel like physical activity and physical education should be part of every day for a kid,” Lorson said. “If we’re physically active in our schools, we’re more likely to grab on to other parts of the community at the same time.”
While children are less active today, state Rep. Kyle Koehler said he’s not sure if schools should be responsible for making sure they get enough movement.
“A lot of it falls back on the parents to make sure they’re kids are getting physical activity,” the Springfield Republican said. “I don’t know if it’s something we have to teach in school.”
No minimum requirements
Elementary students in Springfield don’t get enough time for physical activity during the day, said Kathy Waugh, whose niece, Brittane Wright, is a first-grader at Snyder Park Elementary.
“By the time she gets home, they’re outside running around because they don’t get enough play time,” Waugh said.
The Ohio Department of Education doesn’t require schools to provide daily recess or a minimum amount of physical activity for students, leaving those decisions to local leaders, spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said.
State standards were adopted for physical education in 2015 but districts aren’t required to comply with them and they don’t include a specific curriculum.
Ohio is in good shape for physical activity compared to other states, Lorson said.
The state requires assessments for students in second, fifth, eighth and 12th grades, which shows up on the district and school report cards and isn’t required in other states.
“I really like what we do,” Lorson said.
At the same time, the lack of time requirements can be problematic for students, he said. The best practice is to have one teacher per school building, Lorson said.
More gym class
Springfield currently has five gym teachers who split their time at the district’s 10 elementary school buildings. Beginning next year, the district will spend about $200,000 to hire five new elementary school gym teachers, allowing for more phys ed time.
Hill said he hasn’t heard from a parent all year long about the small amount of recess time or PE classes. Rather the board made a philosophical decision to bring back more gym classes.
“We’re excited to offer our kids with that opportunity to have physical activity during the day because it is important,” Hill said.
The five positions were likely cut when the district was in state financial oversight about a decade ago, Hill said. Physical education is important and he supported bringing back the five PE teachers.
However he doesn’t believe the district can increase recess given the time needed to prepare students for state testing.
Springfield elementary students typically receive about 15 minutes of recess tied to their lunch period, half of what some of their Clark County peers receive.
The district has several after-school programs, including Eagle & Dove Academy, Promise Neighborhood programs and latchkey, that provide physical activity, Hill said.
If you have an active child, they’re going to be active regardless of whether they’re in PE class or in athletics, he said.
“It’s important we instill that knowledge and desire for lifetime physical fitness,” Hill said.
Waugh was happy to hear about the added gym teachers at the elementary schools.
The amount of homework, however, doesn’t leave much time for her niece to play outside, Waugh said. With more physical activity in school, students would be able to better concentrate on their studies, she said.
Waugh’s son, Skiler Hughes, a student at Roosevelt Middle School, gets more time in PE class, she said.
“He’s tired by the time he gets home,” Waugh said.
Middle school students at Greenon typically don’t get enough physical activity during the day, Physical Education teacher Stephanie Lawson said.
Next year, Greenon will require seventh and eighth graders to take at least one quarter of gym, she said.
“It won’t solve all the problems, but we have incorporated that into the schedule,” Lawson said. “Everyone of those middle school kids will be exposed to us. Hopefully that will help.”
About 46 percent of middle school students in Clark County are overweight or obese, according to a 2015 health district survey. About 61 percent of those students didn’t attend physical education classes in an average week, the study says.
The Clark County Combined Health District wants to increase physical activity in schools. That includes helping teachers find ways to get students more active throughout the school day, rather than focusing on increased physical education or recess periods.
The focus is on Springfield second graders, who don’t currently take state testing during that school year, health district Educator Anita Biles said.
The goal is to teach elementary school students the importance of exercise and nutrition at an early age, Biles said, which might curb obesity before middle school and encourage parents to participate with their children.
“We want to get them moving,” she said. “We’re hoping that by guiding them sooner, it will make life choices a little easier.”
At the same time, Biles — also a member of the Springfield City School board — understands districts must make tough choices.
“The state mandates have made it very difficult, but school districts are strapped (for funding),” Biles said. “We all know the importance of art, music and physical education, but when it comes down to it, people want academic numbers and they want to see those numbers increase.”
The state currently requires high school students complete a half-credit in physical education for graduation, the equivalent of about 120 hours of instruction.
Students who participate in two seasons of sports, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, marching band or cheer-leading — while also completing courses in other curriculum areas — can receive exemptions.
Greenon High School began offering phys ed electives this school year, including in personal fitness and racket sports, to appeal to some of those receiving waivers.
“They still get to experience different skills we can teach them,” Lawson said. “It’s a different way for us to keep kids in the gym throughout the day and find the good in that waiver.”
A female personal fitness class was a huge hit, Lawson said. It was run as a group fitness class similar to what adults would experience
“So often girls just don’t want to work out in front of boys or get sweaty in front of boys,” she said.
While students on waivers typically participate in physical activity, they’re not learning about it, Lorson said. The state association is working to remove that waiver option, he said.
“High school is the last chance to teach kids about some of these things, to develop a physical activity plan,” Lorson said. “We think (waivers) run totally counter to what we’re trying to do.”
Gym class and recess times vary from district to district in Clark County.
At Northridge Elementary School, students get about 30 minutes of recess time per day and five, 40-minute gym classes per month.
“There’s a really good balance there,” said Northridge PTO secretary Amber Marshall, who has both a third-grader and a kindergartner at the school. “When it’s a rainy, yucky day, they don’t seem like they’re jumping off the walls or champing at the bit.”
While students at Rolling Hills Elementary School receive similar gym and recess time, Vanessa Anderson believes more recess and gym time is needed to give students a break during the day — especially in a fast-paced learning environment. Her son, Grady, is in kindergarten at the school.
“It’s not bad that they are learning but sometimes I think they try to cram too much into one day,” Anderson said.
The decision to set minimum requirements for recess and physical activity should be set at the local level, Koehler said, not mandated by the state.
While Koehler believes physical education is important, schools are there for teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, he said.
“In my opinion, if there’s a parent out there who feels their child isn’t getting enough physical activity, I sure hope they’re at home making sure their kids get enough physical activity after school,” Koehler said. “All that can be fixed at home.”
Other schools also find ways to educate children about physical activity with special events.
Clark-Shawnee began the district-wide Braves 5K for Healthy Kids six years ago after ultra-marathon runner Dean Karnazes ran through Springfield as part of a cross-country run.
The race is designed to educate children about physical activity, race organizer and school nurse Nikki Elliott-Harper said. The event has grown each year and included more than 750 runners earlier this month, including more than 400 students.
“I just saw a need to have kids out there getting exercise,” Elliott-Harper said.
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