Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools, Health for Life

The focus of education in the past five years has been accountability for our children's ability to read and write successfully.

by James Nunn & Kim Parkes

This focus on building literacy and numeracy skills combined with the overall expansion of curriculum has affected the balance in timetables for both elementary and secondary schools. Physical activity levels for students are reduced, with time in the gym often dropping from hours to minutes a week.

Despite research that indicates average test scores in reading and writing increase with time for physical education, many schools struggle with providing adequate time for students to be active.

Of course, sidelining physical education and discounting its value is nothing new. Jamie recalls his own grandfather commented as he was heading off to university, "We don’t need volleyball players; we need scientists." But, with so much mass media attention being paid to health and lifestyle these days, most will now admit that if these scientists don’t play some volleyball, they may not be researching for very long.

Case Study

We teach in the Health and Physical Education (HPE) department at Westdale Secondary, a large public high school in Hamilton. Our goal is to deliver learning experiences that will help students realize their capacity for satisfying, productive lives. Through health and physical education, students should:

  • understand the importance of physical fitness, health and well-being and the factors that contribute to them
  • develop a personal commitment to daily vigorous physical activity and positive healthy behaviour
  • gain skills required to participate in physical activities throughout their lives.

The health and physical education curriculum in Ontario is not intended to produce successful basketball and volleyball players. It is much broader and incorporates important educational values and goals such as tolerance, excellence, collaboration and healthy choices. And we do not provide this education alone.

Parents, schools, healthcare agencies, peers, businesses and the media are vital partners in reinforcing these ideas. Together, schools and communities can be powerful allies in motivating students.

At Westdale, like other high schools in Ontario, students are swamped with course options and many feel the pressures of ensuring they will have the courses required for their post secondary life. In this context, it is often easy for phys ed to drop off the option forms.

For this reason, our HPE department has made an extra effort to educate students on the value and importance of a healthy active life. We have been successful in attracting students with valuable options that teens want. Gym is no longer confined to the area within four concrete walls.

Quality programming can take many forms in various settings, from an outdoor education centre to the community pool and the arena and students’ interests can be met as they are exposed to a wide variety of ways to be healthy and active.

Build It and They Will Come

The Ministry of Education allows for focus courses in delivering the curriculum and to develop ones that will work at your school, you need search no further than your neighbourhood and the students themselves.

Two years ago, our department at Westdale spent hours developing new ourses. We surveyed students about classes and after-school activities that they want or that intrigue them and customized the curriculum to address their survey responses.

Designing programs that match the needs and interests
of the students, taking advantage of facilities and expertise available in the local community and building on the particular strengths and expertise of teachers in the department builds courses that are exciting and unique.

Such courses reach out to and meet the needs of a varied student population.

One in three children and over half of all adults in Canada are overweight. Thirty-three percent of seven and eight-year-old girls and 38% of seven and eight-year-old boys are overweight. This is three times what it was two years ago.

The courses we offer include a Grade 10 Large-Group Activities, Grade 11 Aquatics and Grade 12 Outdoor Education. From small classroom spaces to shared community facilities, the examples and opportunities to get students running, dancing and interacting are endless.

We produced pamphlets and colourful bulletin boards to promote what we were offering. We met with students and parents prior to their entry to Grade 9 to advocate the importance of including health and physical education in their high school careers.

The number of students who selected HPE as an option grew by 20 per cent.

In order to get our students active, we need to ask the question, "What do our programs look like?"

In order to maximize participation, we must ensure the program includes a balance of developmentally appropriate opportunities for movement, skill development, games and sports as well as health education.

Students need activities that are challenging and engaging in order to build a commitment to an active life.

We believe that our senior HPE courses at Westdale have been successful because of the variety of activities – froma game of disc golf to learning how to curl. A quality HPE program offers maximum participation by ensuring that students of varied abilities are provided with a variety of activities.

Using a range of resources and facilities – gymnasiums, outdoors, classrooms, hallways, community facilities – is also important.

The opportunity to be in community arenas, playing fields and bowling or billiards centres teaches students more than particular skills. It provides a direct experience of being active regardless of one’s environment.

Equally important, this is also exciting for us as teachers to teach a unit on Outdoor Activities (Grade 10 Healthy Active Living Education course) or plan a trip to a conservation area where students can cross-country ski, snowshoe or hike. Such activities are refreshing interpretations of the HPE curriculum and offer possibilities that students might not seek out on their own.

The Help You Need

Just as we may be role models for our students, we must look to our colleagues and professional associations for models and support. And we are fortunate to have access to many good resources for program design.

The Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA) is a tremendous resource. The organization exists to support school communities through advocacy, quality program supports and partnerships that facilitate the realisation of this goal.

Breaking the stereotype of teachers who just roll out the ball, OPHEA reaches out to assist teachers with creative approaches to HPE.

Long-term studies
have found that academic performance is significantly better for students receiving regular physical activity compared to students receiving only academic instruction. (Trois Rivieres Regional Experiment, 1976; Vanves Experiment, 1951-1960.)

Whether you are a first-year teacher or experienced, in an elementary or secondary school, OPHEA provides resources and training (workshops and conferences) as well as access to information and other networks via their web site

The HPE curriculum at the secondary level welcomes Ontario students to experience the value and importance of a healthy active lifestyle.

While we have worked hard at promotion within our own school, it is now our goal to reach out to others to assist with building daily quality programming in other school environments while strengthening our own. We are asking ourselves about the next step for Health and Physical Education in this province. We are turning our sights towards recommending that students consider a secondary senior level HPE credit for graduation.

Once students are hooked and connected to the energy offered in our programs, the options are limitless.

Check out Professionally Speaking on the College web site for useful links andmore information regarding Westdale’s Phys-Ed initiatives.

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