Focus Should Help Health and PE Teachers Gain Funding to Improve Programs to Maximize Positive Impact for Students
Two small words in a statement by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane emphasize why teachers must continue to advocate for programs that focus on students' physical and emotional health.
“Promoting the physical and emotional wellbeing of students is now widely recognized as a core mission of public schools in Virginia and across the nation,” Lane said recently.
By saying “is now,” Lane implies that schools have focused primarily on academic development and achievement while placing less of a priority on the “physical and emotional wellbeing of students.”
“My professors at my university always told me I’d have to advocate for my program,” San Jose Charter Academy PE Teacher Matthew Bassett said. “What they forgot to tell me was that 21 years later, I’d still have to advocate and probably more than I did even in those first few years.”
Many school decisions – such as minimizing physical education or pulling students from recess to make up STEM work – reinforce the perception that academics come first and everything else must make way.
Working to Overcome a Second-Tier Perception
PE teachers continue to battle that perception. Some resigned themselves to that reality and stopped requesting funding for tools they considered essential.
“We are trained in physical education and health to believe that we don’t deserve it,” Irving Independent School District Health and PE Coordinator Sandi Cravens said. “It’s not on purpose. That’s just the way it usually works.”
PE programs deserve funding to improve their curriculum just as much as other programs. Along with each department’s direct budget, teachers can apply for grants from local education agencies, community organizations and more. Recently the federal government has provided significant additional funding that includes PE programs through:
- Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
- Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Stability Act (CARES)
- American Rescue Plan (ARP)
Through those programs, nearly $200 billion has been delivered to state education agencies for distribution to local school systems. Cravens successfully applied for a portion of her district’s ESSA Title IV, Part A funding to purchase IHT ZONE heart rate monitors for her district’s middle school PE programs. Bassett used CARES Act funding to add heart rate monitors for his school.
Redefining Physical Education to Meet Today’s Student Needs
PE classes looked much different a generation ago. Teachers graded students based on whether they dressed appropriately or appeared to be participating in the drills or games. Today, programs focus on teaching lifetime fitness skills and improving cardiovascular and muscular fitness. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) circuits are popular, and teachers look for activities and small-sided games that focus on keeping students active for the bulk of class.
“Our kids’ parents' PE class wasn’t anything like how we structure ours,” Pleasant Valley Junior High School PE Teacher Sophie Haarhues said. “There is still this old reputation and stereotype about PE that is negative.”
Despite the history and the perceived lack of support, Bassett continues to advocate for his PE program. To keep gaining support and help his program get the resources to move forward, he can’t afford to stop self-advocating.
“I think any time you can be an advocate for your program, you have to be, especially with physical education,” he said. “Historically, we don’t always get looked at or thought about in the right way.”
So, what is the “right way” to think about physical education?
Integrating Technology Into PE Programs
Like their STEM colleagues, PE teachers understand the value of bringing technology into their classrooms – gyms or fields. They started with pedometers and have evolved into heart rate monitors including the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitor, which gives students real-time feedback about their heart rate throughout class followed by a detailed summary of the session, including:
- A graph showing the student’s heart rate throughout the session
- How many minutes the student spent in moderate (yellow) and vigorous (red) heart rate zones
- How the student performed compared to the teacher’s goal for the session
When he added heart rate monitors to his PE program, San Bernardino City USD PE teacher Scott Smith noticed an immediate improvement in student buy-in.
“All of a sudden, bam, it was like a game changer,” Smith said. “The kids felt they had something to come to class for. They finally felt that we were thinking about them as individuals. We were not grading them against somebody else. Their excitement (every day) was focused on achieving their heart rate goals.”
Along with allowing students to choose the activities for class, Smith saw students who once hated PE class begin to thrive.
“I would say at this point that 90% of those students, if not more, have changed their opinion of PE,” Smith said. “The reason was that they can look at the data from their monitor, the data that we would give them, and they now have the power to make a difference in themselves.”
Heart rate technology can make a difference for students when used in PE classes as well as STEM classrooms, where movement has been shown to sharpen learning skills. With a priority finally placed on student physical and emotional wellness and more federal funding available than ever before, teachers and administrators may not have a better opportunity to add technology to programs. The first step is asking.