Originally published Nov. 14, 2019 in the Daily Herald.
A new review of student data is confirming what McHenry High School physical education teachers already knew: student physical fitness is a key factor in academic success.
The McHenry Community High School District 156 physical education department released graphs comparing student fitness levels with several academic measures, including grade point average and SAT testing scores.
This is the third year McHenry physical education teachers have compared the data, but this year they also added a comparison to school absences.
In all three areas, students who exceed in the healthy fitness zone performed at the highest level.
“It’s validating things you already knew, but it’s nice to back it up,” said Jennifer Beattie, District 156 division chair for physical education, health and driver’s education.
Physical education teachers know their analysis is not a scientific study and that there are other variables impacting student performance. But the data is readily available, so it is an easy way to take a look.
For the most recent comparison, teachers looked at fitness levels and academic indicators for 479 juniors in the 2018-19 school year. To determine a healthy fitness zone category, teachers use criteria developed by the Cooper Institute called the FitnessGram to measure student achievement in the Pacer run, push-ups, curls and sit and reach.
A formula is used to determine whether a student does not meet, meets, or exceeds the Healthy Fitness Zone. Beattie said they’ll share the information with students, especially around the time for SAT testing.
“Our goal is to have McHenry kids be the best version of themselves. We’re one factor in that equation,” said John Beerbower, assistant divisional chair for physical education, health and driver’s education.
Beerbower, who is also director of the district’s strength and conditioning program, credits Paul Zientarski, physical education teacher at Naperville Central High School, for his work in connecting fitness with academic success. A 2011 PBS news segment highlighted Zientarski’s efforts in Naperville.
The McHenry information was shared with Zientarski, who presents throughout the country on how physical fitness can improve learning.
Beerbower also credits McHenry High School administrators and school board members for being supportive of physical education.