By Laura Farrar
Playing games and sports in elementary school used to be the norm. However, in San Diego today, many elementary school students are not getting the level of physical activity that they should be.
Whether students get an adequate level of physical education (PE) in elementary school often depends on if there is a physical education teacher at the school site. When this is not the case (as is true of several Mission Valley-area elementary schools), classroom teachers are tasked with teaching PE in addition to English, math, science, history, etc. Sometimes these teachers are not familiar with the best methods or strategies for teaching it, or PE is a low priority compared to other subjects. This can result in students not getting meaningful physical activity during the school day.
The Fitnessgram is a physical fitness exam given in grades five, seven, and nine in the San Diego Unified School District. It tests various measures of physical fitness including body mass index (BMI). According to data available on the California Department of Education website, more than 38 percent of fifth graders at Mission Valley’s nine area elementary schools have a BMI that indicates they are overweight or obese.
Enter students in Corri-Anne Burgess’s geographic information systems (GIS) class at Kearny High’s School of Science, Connections & Technology (SCT). Several years ago, students recognized that there was a high number of students not passing the Fitnessgram in ninth grade, and those students were not likely to pass the Fitnessgram when retested in following years. They found that the Fitnessgram results from seventh and fifth grades were not much better. The students found that if we want to make a change in the physical fitness of our youth, we need reach students even earlier than fifth grade.
Burgess partnered with Kearny SCT English and biology teachers and Lynn Barnes-Wallace, physical education resource teacher for the San Diego Unified School District, to find ways to engage high school students in improving the physical fitness of elementary school students.
To start, Kearny SCT students visited more than 20 schools in San Diego to collect BMI data for students in kindergarten and third grade. This included Carson, Jones, Juarez, Florence, Birney, and Adams elementary schools in the Mission Valley area.
While working as an elementary school PE teacher, Barnes-Wallace only saw her students once per week. To provide a resource for classroom teachers teaching PE the other four days of the week, she developed the Increased Movement and Physical Activity Class Time (IMPACT) program.
“There was the need to create a program that was easy for classroom teachers to implement to increase the amount of physical activity time at the elementary level,” she said.
Kearny SCT students are now working with Barnes-Wallace to design elementary school fitness curriculum that incorporates not only movement but the health and science content that goes along with it. Teachers will have access to cards with examples and explanations of different types of exercises they can use with their students. This will give the teachers resources to ensure that students’ physical education is meaningful and productive. Kearny SCT students are also learning more about physical literacy and are becoming empowered to make change in their communities.
Several elementary schools are already taking part in the IMPACT program, with more joining in the 2018-19 school year. Four of Mission Valley’s nine area elementary schools have signed on. According to Barnes-Wallace, the overall goals are “more physical activity time at the elementary level, increased attentiveness in class, healthier students and improved Fitnessgram scores.”
— Laura Farrar writes on behalf of Kearny High, where she teaches Spanish.