Kids not active enough, parents say

More P.E. classes wanted

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Childhood obesity will only worsen if schools do not do more to intervene, some parents say.

Parents last week expressed frustration at a Williston School District Board meeting that children are not active enough in school.

During a report to the board on wellness and physical activity issues, board member Holly Rouelle said her problem is with the physical education program for fifth through eighth graders.

Currently students in first through fourth grades have P.E. twice a week for 40 minutes. Kindergarteners meet twice weekly for 30 minutes.

Fifth through eighth graders, however, take P.E. a total of 12 weeks a year, in two six-week sessions. Students meet daily during the rotation. The other weeks of the year they have no P.E. classes. Instead, they rotate through subjects the school calls “related arts:” music, art, family and consumer science, and technology education.

“As a physical therapist, I see a freight train coming down the track,” Andy Patterson told the board. Patterson has two kids at Williston Central School. The doubling of childhood obesity rates since 1980 and increases in diabetes are among his concerns, Patterson said.

“I know this is a shared responsibility, but I don’t think the school is doing its part.”

Patterson said his kids have told him they are active less than half the time they’re in P.E. class. Too much time is spent in the locker room, learning rules, or standing in line for fitness testing, he said.

School administrators say there are a number of barriers to offering P.E. more often, including the block schedule; limited gym facilities; the length of the school day; and the number of P.E. teachers.

Williston Central School P.E. teacher Dick Farrell said there are benefits to the six-week rotations. Teachers get to build student excitement for daily activity, he said, which teachers hope continues after the rotation ends.

Farrell said the current structure, which he estimates has been in place about 15 years, also helps build kids’ “muscle memory.” They learn the skills, safety techniques and rules that will allow them to continue sports on their own, he said.

Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli said in an interview this week that some people are blending two topics into one conversation.

“If you’re saying you want the students to be active every single day, that’s a little different than saying we’re going to put them into a physical education class every day,” Nardelli said.

By definition, P.E. classes are a lot about instruction. Vermont’s state standards require P.E. teachers to ensure students demonstrate competency according to grade level in the areas of knowledge and motor skills and social interaction in addition to physical fitness.

Adding more time to P.E. classes, Nardelli said, may not be the whole answer.

“They’ll get more instruction and they’ll get more exercise, but it’s not pure exercise, it’s a combination of both,” he said.

Nardelli said in addition to looking at P.E. class scheduling, the school will look at the possibility of adding more breaks dedicated to student activity.

He emphasized, however, that kids are in school only about 6.5 hours a day.

“What about all of the other hours in the day? What are they doing?” Nardelli asked.

Out-of-school eating and activity habits – and role models – are key, he added.

“It’s going to take everybody to solve this problem,” Nardelli said. “Children are not going to be healthy adults if their models are not healthy adults.”

School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby said at last week’s meeting this is an issue the board will look at this year. A wellness committee for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union is charged with six priorities, one of which is to ensure all students have 35 minutes of structured physical activity daily exclusive of recess.