March 19, 2013

ON CAMPUS: Library learning v PE at Modesto schools

Modesto City Schools proposes ending library instruction in elementary grades, replacing it with real PE program.

Modesto City Schools is deep in negotiations with its teachers union over salary and furlough days. But a more interesting aspect for the community may be a proposal by the district to end the district’s long envied elementary library instruction program and bring in a genuine physical education program.

Details were sketchy, with both sides saying since it is a matter of negotiations there are legal limits to what can be spoken publicly.

But here’s what has been said in open meetings.

1) The libraries would remain open with library techs (not credentialed teachers) for kids to peruse and pick out books. What would change is the instruction in library and literary skills, which the program now offers, would be part of classroom time (or not). 2) Credentialed physical education teachers would hold class instead, though with the ability to manage more than 20 kids at once it might be more often than half an hour a week they had in the library. 3) The half-hour weekly “prep period” granted elementary teachers under the old system would remain, just with PE time instead of library time.

At a time when educational institutions – and libraries -- are being asked to remake themselves, this qualifies as a bold proposal of substantive change.

Lots of teachers have their own solid PE programs with calisthenics, timed runs and fun games. Some bring in social studies, having kids play games of the era they’re studying. Some bring in math, with jump rope ditties tapping out times tables.

The benefits of a little run-out-the-squirmies time are well-documented. Kids concentrate better and learn more with a little exercise.

But in an era where too many kids have no dad around to play catch with or a parent with the know-how to coach their running or game strategy, this is a really interesting idea.

In elementary school, those basic throwing, catching, aiming and running skills could be incorporated in a developmental and uniform way. Knowing the game rules and strategies would not be just for those whose parents put them on sports teams.

In many ways, this could help even the playing field.

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