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Enhancing P.E. in Illinois

The importance of everyday physical activity has finally been recognized in the state of Illinois as Chicago Public Schools implement a new physical education policy. Now, PE will be treated as a core subject to ensure that students experience the benefits of daily physical education.  One Elementary School in Chicago is already a step ahead. Last year, Belmont-Cragin Elementary School adopted SPARK, a partner of ours that has an evidence-based P.E. curriculum.  SPARK is designed to be more inclusive, active, and fun than traditional PE classes. Dennis Peters, P.E. teacher at Belmont-Cragin, mentions how he has found even more creative ways to get kids moving.  Such as by taking the kids to the Bulls-Sox Academy in Lisle, IL, where kids can play sports but also take part in the ultimate exergaming experience. They will come back drenched in sweat, and beaming because they are having so much fun being active,” says Peters.

The article below furthers talks about more about Belmont-Cragin Elementary School and its successful implementation of the SPARK curriculum.

Improved Health and Academics
Belmont-Cragin Elementary School in Chicago has seen the academic benefits of increasing physical activity throughout the school day and adopting SPARK, an evidence-based P.E. curriculum that engages students in more moderate to vigorous physical activity than their previous P.E. curriculum. P.E. teacher Dennis Peters led this initiative with consistent support from school administrators and Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

CPS Helps Build Capacity 
Peters attributes much of the trend towards health, wellness, and enhanced physical education in his school to strong leadership from the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness. This office works to increase the
quality of health services and wellness environments through collaboration, and has been assisting schools in enhance P.E. throughout Chicago, focusing first on providing professional development.

Since September 2012, the Physical Education Leadership Team (PELT), convened by CPS, has provided six professional development training days designed to familiarize teachers with enhanced P.E. and the neuroscience research supporting it. Peters is optimistic about the focus CPS has taken to enhance physical education, but knows many schools will face difficulties in light of CPS budget constraints. “CPS has a waiver to allow students to opt out of daily P.E. that runs out next year. We know we will have to hire additional physical education teachers in order to have daily P.E. available to all students, and this could be a challenge,” says Peters. While resources may be tight, Belmont-Cragin is a school that has sought opportunities for collaboration and improvement and is seeing the results.

Budgetary constraints have not deterred Peters from making changes in his school. When he started working at the school last year, Peters was greeted with enthusiasm by Principal Stacy Stewart, who recognized the benefits of improving the P.E. curriculum and getting students active throughout the school day. Peters recognized that physical education classes needed to consist of a higher proportion of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) for every student and that students would benefit from additional physical activity during the school day. It was then that the school partnered with the Walmart Foundation’s Wellness Academics & You (WAY) program to introduce DESKercises, which includes fun games related to the core curriculum that encourage physical activity in the classroom. Belmont-Cragin also participated in the Go for the Gold campaign, a partnership between the Healthy Schools Campaign and CPS to encourage schools to meet the Healthier US Schools Challenge standards. In response to Michelle Obama’s call for an end to childhood obesity, the whole school also made a commitment to healthy snacks.

“The P.E. department’s initiative of providing in-class exercise was a great way to prepare students for the ISAT test. Daily exercise and hydration provided students with the tools they needed to be successful.” – Principal Stacy Stewart

30+20+10 and Field Trips!
The health and wellness efforts at Belmont-Cragin were also driven by the introduction of CPS’s 30+20+10 program. In order to implement the required 30 minutes of daily P.E. for every student, Principal Stewart hired Peters full time as a physical education teacher. In addition to daily P.E., schools following the 30+20+10 model engage students in 20 minutes of meaningful recess each day, as well as 10 minutes of physical activity in the classroom. Peters wants his students to be excited about physical activity, which is why he finds creative ways to get them moving. “We’ll take the 5th through 8th grade students to the Bulls-Sox Training Academy at the end of September. They will come back drenched in sweat, and beaming because they are having so much fun being active,” says Peters. Additionally, he will take his students to Northeastern Illinois University’s Adventure Challenge Education camp where they will use high and low ropes courses to encourage team building and problem solving while being physically active.

ISAT Improvements
Peters utilizes the SPARK curriculum, created and developed by San Diego State University. Since he began using the curriculum, he has noticed an upward trend in his students’ test scores, specifically improvements on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). “The P.E. department’s initiative of providing in class exercise was a great way to prepare students for the ISAT test. Daily exercise and hydration provided students with the tools they needed to be successful,” says Principal Stewart. Peters noticed that during the months before the big test, efforts were made to hold after school tutoring sessions to raise test scores. That is when he went to Principal Stewart with neuroscience research showing that students who engage in physical activity prior to taking a standardized test perform better. “We had our students walking at least 20 minutes before they took their ISAT test, and we saw results,” says Peters.

The Path to Change
Peters believes that the SPARK curriculum is best for his students. “With this curriculum, instant exercise is required. With the old way of teaching P.E., students would line up and stand for five minutes as the teacher took attendance. With SPARK, my students enter the gym running or immediately begin group exercise and as I pass them, they tell me their name. This is how I take attendance.” Peters uses small-sided games with the space of one gym divided into as many as six courts and two or three students engaging in each activity to keep all students as close to being 100% active as possible. His students engage in MVPA almost 40% of their class time, but Peters is aiming to make that 50% this year by encouraging students who are less inclined to participate. “I encourage my students by showing them their improvements. I make a big deal out of the strides that they make in their health and wellness, and even showcase their achievements to the administration,” says Peters.

Read more about the Chicago Public Schools new Physical Education Policy.

Source: SPARK PE

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