tampabay.com

Daily PE will exercise schools, pupils

By DONNA WINCHESTER and LETITIA STEIN
Published May 5, 2007


On paper, the only thing standing between elementary students and daily physical education classes is the governor's signature.

But from a practical perspective, there's more to it than that.

How much more depends on how close a school district already comes to matching what likely will become law: physical education for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Pinellas officials say they're nearly there. Hillsborough officials say schools may have to work harder to comply.

"This should be a really good thing, " said Nick Grasso, a Pinellas administrator in charge of athletic programs, physical education and driver education. "This legislation will bring consistency to the district, ensuring that kids get the type of activity that's needed in a standard curriculum."

Most Pinellas schools already offer five days of PE, Grasso said. Those that presently offer PE only three days a week should be able to increase their programs without additional staff or funding, he said.

But in Hillsborough, where elementary students have PE classes twice weekly for 30 minutes, officials scrambled Friday to figure out exactly what had passed in the next-to-final day of the legislative session.

Their big worry was that the state would require five days a week of PE taught by teachers trained in the field. Without money for new hires, they feared they would have to triple or quadruple PE classes.

The law appears to be much milder, allowing classroom teachers the option of building activity time into their class schedules on days that students don't have a formal PE class.

"If we allow our children to engage in physical activity on days that they don't have physical education, " said Steve Vanoer, the district's supervisor for physical education, "then everybody wins."

The call for districts to intensify their efforts to provide physical education originated with Gov. Charlie Crist, who began pushing for more rigorous PE requirements earlier this year. The House passed a measure that would ensure daily PE for elementary students last week, and a unanimous Senate vote came Thursday.

Local physical education teachers embraced the news.

"We've advocated for this for years, " said Jason Wood, a PE teacher at Lakeview Fundamental School in St. Petersburg and president of the local chapter of the Florida Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. "It's been proven that kids learn better if they're in good physical shape."

Linda Fairman, a PE teacher at Cross Bayou Elementary in Pinellas Park, said she was glad "the governor realizes it's not just about academics." Fairman helps run a before-school running program at her school aimed at building more physical activity into the children's crowded day.

Like Cross Bayou and a handful of other Pinellas elementaries, some Hillsborough schools have found creative ways to pack in more fitness opportunities. Broward Elementary in Tampa started encouraging teachers to "Take Ten" this year and break for physical activity when they see students losing focus.

"They don't even realize they are doing physical activity, " said principal Kathy Moore. "It's just a chance to get out of their seats."

But for some schools, especially those struggling to meet increasing state and federal mandates, finding more time to meet the new requirement will be a challenge.

"We've only got so many minutes in the day, " said Dave Carey, assistant principal at Blanton Elementary in unincorporated Pinellas. Carey spent hours poring over his school's master schedule last summer to find a way to boost PE to five days a week in anticipation of the mandate.

"You make it work, " Carey said. "You do the best you can."