Alaska parents may think their children get a physical education class as often as they did growing up. In 2017, however, only 1 out of 5 Alaska high school students attended daily physical education classes.
Experts from SHAPE America and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) call for elementary schools to provide 150 minutes of physical education each week
. Not all elementary schools in Alaska provide that much. Some school districts and schools within districts, however, are making regular physical education classes a priority and seeing the benefits
Providing high-quality physical education (PE) in schools is not the same thing as providing physical activity. Time for physical activity, however, is a great way to practice what’s learned in PE classes and can help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight. Recess is one example of physical activity time.
- teaches fundamental skills in movement, like throwing and catching a ball
- improves children’s motor skills
- builds a foundation for lifelong physical fitness habits, and
- delivers academic benefits, including the possibility of improving children’s behavior in the classroom, grades and test scores.
Meeting recommendations in Alaska schools
Elementary schools in two different Alaska school districts have found their own ways to meet the recommendations for PE each week. In the Petersburg School District
, that means providing PE classes four days each week and exceeding the 150 minutes of recommended PE time by the end of the school week. At Seward Elementary School
, that means PE class all five days of the school week, every week, for children in grades 3-5.
Petersburg School District
At Stedman Elementary School
, students in grades K-5 alternate between a week of gym class and a week of swim class, said Ginger Evens, teacher and wellness team member in the district. Students have 40 minutes of PE each day for four days during the school week, along with a minimum of 20 minutes of recess each day.
Daily physical activity and PE have become part of the school culture in Petersburg, Evens said.
“I believe Petersburg prioritizes meeting the national standards for PE time for children because of the overall benefits for their personal well-being, as well as for academic performance,” she said. “In the past, parents and community members have gone to school board meetings when there has been talk of cutting the swim program or reducing PE time and argued for keeping both programs.”
Petersburg’s commitment to PE also delivers the benefit of learning life-saving swimming skills in a coastal community. Students learn how to properly wear a life jacket, put on a survival suit and use cold water survival skills that are essential for a fishing community, Evens said.
Seward Elementary School in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District
The teachers and principal at Seward Elementary School
had been investigating strategies for improvements at school. They read research showing the connection between more active time in PE classes and recess and improvements in students’ learning and behavior.
In 2005, the staff changed the class schedule so all students in grade 3–5 could get 30 minutes of PE class every day, said Mark Fraad, the school’s sole PE teacher. That enabled the elementary school to reach the recommended 150 minutes of PE time each school week. The change to PE time, however, required changes in other areas, too. The school staff agreed to start having students eat lunch in classrooms so the gym was open for more PE classes all day.
Students at Seward Elementary seek out activity time as a reward, Fraad said. When they meet a goal, students ask for more PE time instead of treats or a food-related party.
“We’re offering a healthy alternative to the pizza party,” he said.
School staff noticed improved student performance and behavior after adding more physical education time. During the school year following the addition of PE classes, the percent of students skilled in math and reading increased in grades 3–5.
Strategies like these
may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies
schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.