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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Fitness now the focus of P.E. class

Friday, February 7, 2003

Sikeston Middle School students burn some calories as they play hockey during physical education class.
SIKESTON -- Physical education teacher of 15 years, LaVeta Williams, blows her whistle to signal the start of another exercise.

On cue a group of sixth and seventh grade girls begin a set of jumping jacks while spelling Sikeston Bulldogs aloud and ending with a couple rhythmic claps. The girls had previously finished doing stretches, sit ups, pushups and leg raises. With Williams in the lead, she and the girls took off running, looping around orange cones in the gym. And now that their warm-up was over, they were off to play soccer in the school gym.

Williams, who teaches at the Sikeston Middle School, said while the exercises, for the most part, have remained the same over the years, her focus is what has changed.

"It used to be you taught a skill to the students and then we would work on that skill and test them over it later," Williams recalled. "Now the focus has switched to fitness."

The switch to fitness evolved due to the increasing national rate of overweight children. Today there are nearly twice as many overweight children and almost three times as many overweight adolescents as there were in 1980.

Results of the 1999 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that 13 percent of children and adolescents were overweight.

"It's sad," Williams said. "There are kids who are real athletes and enjoy exercising -- and then there are some who don't do anything at all. I even have some parents who write notes excusing their children from activities."

Williams thinks one way of overcoming inactivity is to always keep the students moving. Once in a while, Williams said she'll stop the girls during different activities to check their pulse rates.

"If we're playing hockey, I'll stop them and ask if the exercise is good for them. Then the next time, we may be playing volleyball and I'll ask them the same thing," Williams explained.

Over the years, Williams has developed a strategy so the girls won't have a reason to sit on the sidelines. She's got extra gym clothes students can borrow when they "forget" their own. She's integrated the popular step aerobics and circuit training into her classes.

At Sikeston Middle School, the boys and girls classes are held separately, and it's been that way for years.

"I think the P.E. classes have taken on a broader perspective," said Homer Jackson, Sikeston Middle School Physical Education Department head and boys P.E. teacher. "We've added health classes into the curriculum so twice a week students go to health class and three times they come to P.E. We incorporate their health lessons into our P.E."

For example, when the boys are learning about bones, they have to name the ones they are learning about before they can play.

Williams and Jackson aren't the only teachers who have changed their focus of instructing P.E. According to Williams, the whole Sikeston Public Schools physical education system has undergone recent changes -- even the kindergartners.

"It's more than just rolling the ball out," insisted Tim Young, Kindergarten Center physical education teacher. Students at Sikeston Kindergarten Center assemble for 50 minutes of physical activity once a week. From calisthenics to running and plyometrics, the kindergartners participate in a number of activities.

"We work on motor skills and hand-eye coordination. It's basically an introduction to sports and physical education," Young said.

And very rarely does Young have a child who wants to sit out. If they do, it's only because they're really not feeling well, he said.

"Somewhere between kindergarten and middle school, we're losing them," Williams said. "I cannot affect their whole lifestyle. Parents play a major role in their children's physical activity.

Williams thinks society, improper diets, lack of elementary facilities and lack of parental involvement all contribute to inactivity of children and child obesity.

"Kids don't get outside and play like they used to. They'd rather play baseball on the computer than grab a wiffle ball and bat and play with the neighborhood kids," noted Terry Flannigan, Sikeston Middle School health/physical education teacher.

Flannigan thinks the major trend over the last few years is that children don't get the chance to take P.E. classes after their freshman year of high school.

"Many schools only require one P.E. credit so children are getting less physical activity. They should offer more choices."

Flannigan may be on to something. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a decade ago, 42 percent of high school students attended a daily gym class. Now only 25 percent do.

"A healthy body leads to a healthy mind," Flannigan assured. "Something's got to change or we'll keep getting further and further behind."