Elementary PE gains a foothold as trainers fight slide of high school programs

naustin@modbee.comJune 21, 2014 

Kids in Newman-Crows Landing elementary schools got something new this school year, a benefit only some in California enjoy – a physical education teacher. Ceres Unified has a similar program and will add a fifth credentialed PE teacher next year for its grade schools.

With the increase in education funding, physical education programs for early grades are getting fresh attention. But while well-planned programs for younger students gain fans, P.E. has lost some luster in the highest grades. Teens can opt for sports or drop PE altogether after taking two years.

On Thursday, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing voted to authorize a certificate for veterans teaching Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Two local college instructors who spoke against the proposal in Sacramento said the move essentially endorses the local option to give PE credit for JROTC courses.

“If you offer that credit, and supplant it for PE, they aren’t getting what’s required,” said Janice Herring, a full-time lecturer with the department of kinesiology at the California State University, Stanislaus. Herring and colleague Karen Breshears argued against the training certificate. Because of the number of speakers, Herring had two minutes to speak and Breshears only one.

Herring speaks passionately about the high quality programs her former students offer at schools. Mark Santos is one of them, hired in October by the Newman-Crows Landing Unified district to serve four elementary schools.

Santos serves one school each day, one grade each hour, Monday through Thursday. On rotating Fridays, he teaches a health class to all the grades. Every student gets at least an hour of real PE a week, and every grade’s teachers get an hour to collaborate, explained Superintendent Ed Felt.

Much of what he teaches, Santos said, he had to develop or adapt to scale. He and two aides run classes ranging from about 60 to 80 students.

While some kids do league sports, a lot of students have little or no athletic training, he said. “Some of them are super-shy, afraid to throw a ball. It’s good for those kids. Those would be the kids that would just sit out at recess. It helps to build up some confidence,” Santos said.

Even the expert players need to work on skills, he said. “I break it down for them. We bring out the basketball, do some drills, do some dribbling games, do some shooting games.”

He works to keep everyone moving, doing drills in between the maximum of three games he oversees simultaneously. “If they’re having fun, running around, they don’t even know they’re getting exercise,” he said.

The 4- and 5-year-olds have a different set of skills to work on than the fifth-graders. “With them, I work on running, jumping, skipping, shuffling,” he said. “It’s all about getting the routine in with them, then I keep adding on the steps. Games come later.”

By fifth grade, he’s working on another set of issues. “Kids have a hard time losing,” Santos said. Each day, he focuses on a word: integrity, teamwork, attitude. “That’s one of our main things we focus on: good sportsmanship.”

The health classes have focused on nutrition, making weekly meal plans, and learning about germs. Next year, he wants to add hygiene and dental health. “I’ve had kids say, ‘I had to tell my dad, “That’s not healthy.” ’ That’s kind of nice, hearing it’s going through the whole community,” Santos said.

The Newman-Crows Landing developmental program offers a peek at what PE can be. Anyone can assign push-ups. But it takes more to design comprehensive programs, say CSU Stanislaus students planning to be teachers and physical therapists.

“They say, ‘We can tell people to walk on a treadmill.’ But you need to know the research behind it,” said Lesley Willems, while she took a turn doing arm curls with a 5-pound weight. Willems, among students at a class with Herring on Friday, is working for a teaching credential with a specialty in physical education. “It’s not that we’re taking the easy courses. There’s a lot of science and math, a statistical basis for all this. Somebody who doesn’t know all that could injure you,” she said.

“It’s more about not just knowing the facts, it’s knowing the reasons behind them,” said Maribel Saucedo before demonstrating how to hold an elbow to keep it from overextending as the weight drops. Saucedo is studying to be an occupational therapist.

The students spent Friday’s class practicing for a clinic with senior citizens. Herring laid out the finer points of how to screen for balance before some tests, and ways to position the chair so it doesn’t slide as someone sits.

Knowing practical details and how to wrap a Common Core lesson into a PE game all form a part of what students in the College of Education kinesiology program learn, Herring said. “They take anatomy, physiology, prevention and care of injuries, motor learning, adaptive P.E. There’s a reason they spend four years in college.”

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service