By Clayton Ellis
The challenges faced in providing Colorado students with effective health and physical education instruction go back many years. But with the opportunities offered to support a well-rounded education under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I am hopeful that I can finally empower students to live healthy, active lives. Access to Title IV, Part A, funds is imperative in making this important goal a reality, which is why I am asking Congress to fully fund this program at the authorized level of $1.65 billion.
During the No Child Left Behind era, the focus on AYP and state assessments caused health and physical education programs to be cut and severely marginalized students across Colorado. Professional development for teachers focused on how to incorporate literacy into classes no matter what content area they were teaching. Implementation of our newly developed, innovative physical education curriculum and standards was not a priority. Funding for more remediation and increased seat time resulted in significant cuts to health and physical education budgets and departments.
Health and physical education are now considered part of a well-rounded education and are just as important as any other content area. Everyone knows that healthier students perform better in school. By making health and physical education a priority, students would be provided a more individualized, unique, and innovative learning experience. Focusing on physical activities such as weight training, skiing, and biking helps students to prepare for life after physical education class and gives them the tools to be physically active and healthy for a lifetime.
An effective high school physical education program should be more like a community recreation center or fitness gym with numerous opportunities for students to participate in their own areas of interest. A traditional budget for physical education ranges from approximately $250 at an elementary school to approximately $3000 at the high school level—for all students for the entire school year. By using Title IV funding to support health and physical education, I could purchase a variety of equipment and utilize my teaching space more efficiently. Rather than just purchasing a few balls to either supplement or replace damaged equipment, I could purchase the latest and greatest fitness equipment like battle ropes, TRX, Viper, rock climbing walls, or kettlebells. I could have access to class sets for activities like archery, bicycling, fishing, roller skating, or skateboarding. I could take students on field trips to local ski slopes, mountain bike parks, and water parks. My colleagues and I would also be able to receive professional development on a standards-based lifetime activity curriculum so that we could deliver high-quality and appropriate instruction to our students and stay up-to-date with the latest best practices and trends in the field.
I would also integrate fitness tracking devices into my program so that students can see how hard they are working in class and so that I can track their progress and improvement over time. I would create challenges using fitness tracking applications in order to engage students and their families, promote ownership of physical activity, and encourage them to participate in physical activity outside of school. By using Title IV funding to support health and physical education, we could change the entire culture of the school by focusing on developing students’ confidence, knowledge, skills, competence, and desire to participate in a lifetime of physical activity. In order for my program and so many others to truly be effective, Title IV, Part A, must be fully funded at $1.65 billion. That is the only way that schools will have access to the resources they will need to make a positive influence on the health and well-being of students.
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Clayton Ellis is the lead teacher for comprehensive health and wellness at Mrachek Middle School in Aurora, Colorado. He is also president of the Colorado Governor’s Council for Active and Healthy Lifestyles and serves on the SHAPE America Central District Leadership Council. Ellis was selected as the 2010 National High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year.