Beau Yarbrough, Staff Writer, LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/11329ZP
Updated: 5/26/2013 08:13:54 PM PDT :: In an era of pressure to make sure Johnny and Alicia can read and do algebra, there's just no comparable movement to assure they can be healthy and avoid obesity.
More than two-thirds of the state's students are lagging well behind when it comes to be physical fit.
For the second year in a row, only one student in three got passing grades in the state physical fitness test.
"We have done so much to improve student achievement in our schools, unfortunately it took (new federal and state standards) and sanctions to help change behavior and create a 'sense of urgency' to move to a more learning-centered model," said Vista del Valle Elementary Principal Dave Stewart in the Claremont Unified School District.
Stewart is the former Canadian national decathlon champion and one-time training partner of Olympic gold medal decathlete Bryan Clay.
"I don't know that legislators will go to these lengths to improve physical fitness in our schools, but school leaders definitely have the power to make positive change in our schools. "
Stewart would like to see a variety of physical fitness activities offered at school sites, including fitness clubs for staff and teachers, structured activities during recess, moving recess before lunch and adding five-minute exercise breaks throughout the day.
In the state tests, only 31 percent were rated as "healthy" in six out of six of the
areas evaluated in the 2012 Physical Fitness Test by the state Department of Education.
"When I was in school, that was an F," said Alecia Sanchez, policy director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a non-profit advocacy organization. "These issues really are about the environment that the kids are living in, including the school environment ... that really make making a healthy choice harder than it ought to be. "
Things are already improving, Sanchez said, with federally mandated changes to school lunches, which include more fruits and grains. But more needs to be done, in her opinion.
"(Some) middle schools and high schools still drink sports drinks. ... But they're like the cousins of sodas. They're filled with extra calories. ... Sugary drinks contribute huge numbers of extra calories to kids' diet. Making some progress in that one area would be huge to us. "
Kurt Madden, superintendent of the Bear Valley Unified School District, wants more physical fitness training, more teaching of the value of daily exercise and creating nutritional plans for students at school and at home.
And Madden is in a position to know the importance of physical fitness.
"I was chubby as a young child and was told I would not live past the age of 5 due to a heart problem," said Madden.
"I recently achieved a personal record in a 100-mile running race after racing this distance for 18 years. The benefits of daily exercise and quality foods has contributed to my health. My current resting heart rate is 38 beats per minute, and my body fat is approximately 6 percent. "
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, would rather see changes made through incentives at the local level, rather than top-down changes from the Legislature.
"People rise to the bar that is set for them and respond to recognition," he said. "If the bar is set low, performance will be low. Results will rise dramatically if we challenge students to meet a higher standard and incentivize hard work in academics, fitness and community leadership. "
State law requires a certain minimum number of minutes of physical education for students "" 200 minutes every 10 days for grades 1-6 (and for elementary districts teaching grades 1-8) and 400 minutes every 10 days for secondary grades 7-12 "" but districts battered by budget cuts have been tempted to cut back on their athletic programs, despite recognizing their value.
"We've come awfully close" in the past to reducing or eliminating high school sports, Long Beach Unified spokesman Chris Eftychiou said. "Our school board came close to eliminating our middle school athletics program. " Our community came forward to provide funding for the program, so it's still going, but it nearly wasn't. "
And Long Beach is home to one of the country's top high school sports programs. In the end, the 127-year LBUSD, the third-largest school district in California, cut more than 1,000 jobs in the past four years, but none of them in physical education.
Los Angeles Unified actually did cut their athletic program "" briefly.
"Going back about four years ago, we did take a $1.4 million cut to the program," said Barbara Fiege, director of interscholastic athletics for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "However, because that made the news, the LA 84 Foundation spearheaded an effort to raise funds. " With the efforts of LA 84, and teams such as the Dodgers, the Lakers, Chivas USA and others, we were able to raise the $1.4 million, so we didn't have to make the cuts that we were going to make at that time. "
The cuts would have eliminated more than 700 coaches.
Most of the coaches' jobs ended up being spared, although assistant swimming coaches, freshman basketball coaches and other lower level coaches did end up being cut.
The district has tried to make athletics and physical education cuts in other areas.
"Where we have taken the cuts is in the amount of funds that goes for transportation for the teams," Fiege said.
Smaller teams, like golf or some tennis teams, have to take private cars and when buses are used, the district tries to put as many athletes on them as possible.
"The goal was to reduce the program because of the financial cuts but do it so that we weren't taking away the opportunity for kids to play and maintain their physical fitness, stay in school and all those good things," Fiege said.
The passage of Proposition 30 let some districts avoid cuts that might have impacted physical education.
"Through the past five years of cuts, we've tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," Redlands Unified school board member Neal Waner said. "While the cuts have indeed impacted learning across the spectrum, we haven't pinpointed athletics or PE " as something that's acceptable. "
The worst case scenario budget created by Redlands Unified didn't include physical education or athletics cuts on its first tier of cuts to be made in case Proposition 30 had failed and the district had been hit with automatic cuts. It did include them on later levels of cuts, when the district would have had to cut deeply in all programs.
"We did not lay off any PE teachers during last year's budget cuts," San Bernardino City Unified spokeswoman Linda Bardere said. "Thanks to Proposition 30, we have not had to make any changes to the ways we deliver PE instruction this year. "
The annual Physical Fitness Test rates students in aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength and flexibility.