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New philosophy about P.E.

By C.T. BOWEN Editor of Editorials
Published March 4, 2007


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The two-minute warning.

It is the notorious 15-minute phenomenon in professional football that ends each half. It's also a common parenting ploy. Tell the kids they have two or (fill in the blank) minutes until dinner.

The two-minute warning, minus the extra time for commercials, could become the norm at Pasco County's elementary schools next year. As in, "Hey, you get two more minutes to play."

That is the potential fallout from HB 967, the idea from Gov. Charlie Crist and sponsored by Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, to require 150 minutes of physical activity each week for elementary school children.

Two minutes a day.

At Pasco's schools, the children in kindergarten through fifth grade currently receive 90 minutes a week of physical education, known as P.E. Some of you probably remember it as gym class. It is organized playing and exercising led by a teacher whom the kids refer to as "Coach."

The P.E. is mandated by the district, but not by the state. Florida is one of 14 states that include no physical education requirement for elementary schools.

The Pasco school district also recommends 10 to 15 minutes each day of recess. The last time the district surveyed its principals, each elementary school offered at least 10 minutes of running, jumping, playing on the playground, kickball, soccer, tossing a football or whatever else the fertile minds of youth can devise. The kids choose up sides themselves. Sometimes they do it in advance, according to the fourth-grader in our household. Makes sense. They don't waste any of their guarded recess time on draft picks, trades and making sure even the uncoordinated kids are invited to join.

Ten minutes a day equates to 50 minutes weekly. We're up to 140 minutes right now. Stretch recess to 12 minutes and we're there.

Two extra minutes a day from this Tallahassee mandate.

Now, not all districts do likewise. The typical elementary school in Hillsborough County, for instance, has only 105 minutes of physical activity, and not all schools offer the thrice-weekly 15-minute recess periods.

No wonder we have groups such as the American Association for the Child's Right to Play. Its international play conference is next month in Rochester, N.Y. It formed in 1973, but the international group came together in 1961, two years after a United Nations declaration that children "shall have full opportunity for play and recreation which should be directed to the same purposes as education," according to the group's Web site (www.ipausa.org).

International relations aren't the motive for Weatherford. Combatting increased childhood obesity is.

Recent reductions in recess time are attributed commonly to increased emphasis on standardized testing and risk management because of litigation tied to playground injuries.

Crist already has said the state's standardized test, the FCAT, needs to be tweaked. That alone might help schools build in additional down time for kids to go blow off steam.

Here's another idea. You want kids to spend more time playing? How about giving them stuff to play with? New elementary schools do not include playground equipment. Parent Teacher Associations raise the thousands of dollars required to put the slides, swings and jungle gyms outside the schools.

Recently, I spied a box of three kick balls in my wife's car. Somebody's birthday? No, she had purchased them for her fourth-grade class to use during recess.

The P.E. teachers at her school just concluded a fund-raiser - basically, asking parents to send in money - to allow them to acquire additional sports equipment.

Some of the other physical activity-related extras around the school district, like some of the scoreboards for the high school athletic fields and transportation for student athletes, came from money for selling Pepsi-Cola products at school events.

In other words, parents, teachers and private-sector money from pushing sugary drinks account for stuff the district can't afford.

It's easy to mandate more play time for kids. But changing the state's philosophy of doing things on the cheap will take longer than two minutes.

[Last modified March 4, 2007, 07:45:28]


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