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Student fitness gets low marks
The governor hears tales of unhealthy food and PE dodges.
Published August 22, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - Pupils who have never seen a cucumber or strawberry. Principals searching for loopholes in the state's new physical education requirement. School vending machines filled with candy and other calorie-packed treats.
Those are some of the health and nutrition challenges that teachers and other school officials laid out Tuesday for Gov. Charlie Crist, who has made physical fitness and obesity prevention key parts of his education agenda.
But they also told of successes, including lunchrooms that feature fruits and vegetables while banning fried foods, a school that dramatically cut its obesity level by getting parents involved in its nutrition program and another that substituted play time for cupcakes at classroom birthday parties.
Crist afterward said he wants to expand the physical education requirement he pushed through the Legislature this year.
Pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade must get 150 minutes of PE each week. The only other PE requirement is one credit for high school graduation.
The governor met with 13 school staffers - including physical education teachers, nurses, counselors and administrators - as part of his "Tallahassee Tuesdays" initiative.
Many schools have been reducing or dropping physical education to provide more time for academics including preparation for high-stakes standardized tests that can determine whether principals, teachers and other staffers are rewarded or punished.
Crist was stunned, though, when Ellen Smith, a physical education teacher at Gove Elementary School in Belle Glade, told him one school was counting the time it takes students to walk to the cafeteria for lunch as part of the physical education requirement.
"Some principals are like good lawyers," Smith said. "They find loopholes."
She declined to name the school, but Crist said he was looking forward to hearing from her in private.
Cassandra Waller, a physical education teacher, said some kids at McArthur Elementary in Pensacola had never seen, much less eaten, a cucumber or strawberry until the school began a fruit and vegetable of the month program.
The school's cafeteria, though, still serves fried foods and pizza, she said.
"If we are going to teach this stuff, we need that extra support on that side, too, because this is contradicting what we're trying to teach," Waller said.
Most schools in Hillsborough County no longer offer fried foods and carbonated soft drinks in their cafeterias, but kids are still getting a mixed message, said Judy Harrison, food service director at Hillsborough High School in Tampa.
"They walk right out the door and see vending machines selling candy and vending machines selling ice cream," Harrison said. "It's a double standard."