Originally published March 1, 2019 in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
By Shelly Conlon
The Sioux Falls School District is about to make sure gym class no longer has the reputation of a blow-off class for students by giving them more choices, school officials said this week.
The district will be spending more than $337,000 on course work and equipment to shift away from team sports and toward a personal fitness focus at all grade levels, said Ann Smith, the district’s curriculum director.
“Overall, the biggest change we’re seeing is recognizing it is education, it’s physical education,” Smith said. “How do we help our students understand how to take personal responsibility for their fitness?”
The change comes after an 18-month study of dozens of parents, community members, teachers and administrators as part of the district’s plan to look at class subjects on a rotational cycle, Smith said.
It’s been seven years since physical education curriculum was up for review in the largest district in the state, she said. The school board Monday approved the change, which will give a more uniformed philosophy for the coursework across the district, Smith said.
“You have to start young,” Smith said. “Think about some of the more stereotypical attitudes of what PE class is about. It’s are you getting picked to be on the team to do this or that? And that’s not what fitness should be about. Fitness should be about how do I be the best me I can be.”
‘Taking care of your body is for everyone’
The change will allow students to build on what they’ve learned from year to year, officials said. At the elementary level, the change will happen with teachers. Educators will now have access to new online curriculum resources as they focus on meeting state standards.
In middle school, teachers will help students understand the purpose behind becoming a physically fit individual.
“For the past few years, it’s just been we’ve got to get them in and we’ve got to get them moving, and that’s it and that’s all some of them get,” said Kris Zortman, a Memorial Middle School PE teacher for the last 12 years.
She said the “old PE” isn’t working, and that often by high school students aren’t interested in remaining fit after completing the required course. By starting a personal fitness focus earlier, it will encourage children to choose healthier habits later in life.
“A lot of people think PE is for the athletes, and its truly not,” Zortman said. “It’s the ones who aren’t into sports who have to know fitness, and taking care of your body is for everyone.”
Classes will still include group games and activities, but will emphasize the reason behind the exercise and build off previous lessons learned. Curriculum might even include more knowledge-based fitness tests, she said.
“Sixth grade should look different from seventh, and seventh should be different than eighth,” she said. “If we keep doing the same things, they’ll be bored by eighth grade.”
And at the high school level, students will learn how to take those lessons and apply them after graduation to “engage in a lifetime of fitness,” Smith said.
But to accomplish the change, the lessons also have to be brought into the 21st century, Smith said.
Modernizing gym class with technology
As part of the funding, the district will be spending thousands on iPods, iPads, Apple TVs, smart TVs and projectors, fitness tracking software, heart rate and step monitors, headsets and microphones and music.
The iPods are for music. And if students can see instructions or a demonstration in a different format, teachers will have more flexibility to help students learn more, Smith said.
“I just think about how much fitness has changed in the last five, 10 or 15 years,” school board member Carly Reiter said. “I mean, you can download an app that will tell you what to do for activities. … I like to see the integration of technology and using it creatively in classes you might not otherwise think of, like a PE class. Very interesting.”
The district will also be looking for ways for teachers to partner with local fitness professionals to work with students.
“It’s a class where I’m learning what really defines fitness, how to assess my own fitness, and how to take the information I can gather from all of these different places and develop a plan for myself,” Smith said. “Then I can go out and learn how to make an informed decision about a gym to join, or an informed decision about what I want to engage in for summer activity.”
The change begins next school year, Smith said.