|Teachers from other schools, after hearing that students were now hurrying to gym class, wanted in on the action.|
At Lawrence Eckert Intermediate School, students are immersed in a four-week integrated lesson on fishing. The PE teachers cover boating safety and fishing techniques. In science class, students study the biology of fish and other water creatures. Math class immerses them in weights and measures. And they delve into environmental issues, the weather, navigation, and map reading with social studies teacher Terry Britton, the resident fishing fanatic.
"They live, eat, and breathe fishing during these weeks," Britton says. "They are learning a lot more than how to catch a fish."
At the end of the lesson--part of a national initiative called Hooked on Fishing, Not Drugs--local parks and recreation professionals bring fish into the classroom to show students different species. The class is then ready for a field trip to a nearby lake where the youths can show off their skill in baiting hooks and casting lines.
Physical education teachers in Aldine routinely work with their peers in other subjects to plan lessons around what they are learning in other classes. They even play a role in preparing students for state tests.
The brightly colored scarves feather through the air as students throw one up, one down, arms circling in front of them, attempting to master the fine art of juggling. This is not just an exercise in clown antics, but a carefully planned lesson in sequencing that PE teacher Bob Byrns has devised to help students perform better on upcoming state tests. The lesson is part of Byrns' increasing academic role at Walter and Inez Stovall Elementary School.
"They have to learn that there is a logical sequence to events. If you miss a step on a math problem, it will be difficult coming up with the correct conclusion," says Byrns. "When writing a story in language arts, if you don't come up with a logical sequence to a story, followed by the conclusion, it doesn't make sense. The same in juggling. You have to learn step 1 before you learn step 2; if you don't learn step 2, you'll never learn step 3, and you won't be able to juggle."
The transformation has been profound. Teachers and administrators now believe that physical education teachers are as critical to school success as their peers in the science or math departments.
"Other teachers used to keep students in their class and out of PE if they wanted to cover more [in their subject]," says Norma Lopez, a pe teacher at Drew Academy. "Now teachers realize the importance of this class. We don't have free days. It is a structured class, and every day there is a specific lesson."
Many credit the metamorphosis to the moxie of a 5-foot-4-inch fireball named Sharon Sterchy.
Administrators gave Sterchy free rein when she signed on as the district's new wellness director. After a stint as an assistant principal in a nearby district and a career teaching physical education in Texas, Missouri, and Wisconsin, Sterchy brought with her more than her considerable experience.
Even before her first mandate as director, her infectious enthusiasm and steadfast determination had convinced her new bosses that she would get the job done.
The first test of her mettle happened only a few days into her tenure. Some veteran teachers she encountered were more than a bit skeptical of her agenda. She walked into one high school gym class, and the teachers didn't even bother to stand up to greet her, she says. They sat in their folding chairs drinking coffee while those students who wanted to played what was then commonplace--an elimination game of dodge ball.
"They couldn't care less that I was even there," she recalls. "I got to my car as fast as I could and cried on my way back to the office. I thought, this program is so far gone, it's hopeless."
But the next day she forced herself to return and formulated a plan to win over the bulk of the district's 300 teachers. She soon discovered a strong cadre of educators who wanted change and were willing to work with her.
She started with subtle changes to get the ball rolling on her five-year plan to revamp the program.
"I tried to ease into the changes so nobody felt threatened," Sterchy says. "The teachers in the district were outstanding individuals who had been squashed down over the years. Their morale had to be rekindled."
The first move: a districtwide dress policy that required students to wear uniform fitness apparel. Sterchy decided to break away from traditional gym uniforms--the one-piece jumpers for girls and polyester shorts for boys--that have long roused the dread of fashion-conscious students. The boys and girls were asked what they wanted, and the district responded with baggy, cotton, draw-string shorts and T-shirts bearing a district logo.
Almost immediately, more students began participating in class. Because they were required to dress anyway, the students figured they might as well get off the bleachers. Coupled with other changes, such as repairs to showers and locker rooms and a move away from team sports, the results were striking. Now many teachers report a better than 90 percent participation rate.
Other changes followed. Beginning with two schools, Sterchy encouraged teachers to get more creative. They cut back on team sports, added aerobic activities and innovative group games, and taught children how their bodies function. They brainstormed and came up with more inventive ways to get kids excited about exercise.
"At first, my coaches did not want to change," acknowledges Sue Wooten, the principal for 19 years at Mattie Teague Middle School, one of the program's pilot sites. "But once they started, we couldn't stop them. It has created an excitement not only with our kids but with our teachers. It's been a renewal for a lot of our PE folks."
Teachers from other schools, after hearing that students were now hurrying to gym class, wanted in on the action. Part of that enthusiasm sprouted from new opportunities that have been foreign to most school programs, experts say.
'I tried to ease into the changes so nobody felt threatened. The
teachers in the district were outstanding individuals who had
been squashed down for years.'
Aldine was the first district in the country to pilot an in-line skating program. When Sterchy broached the idea with teachers and administrators, they told her she was crazy. The district wouldn't pay for expensive equipment, and the potential for injurywasn't worth the risk, they said. But Sterchy was determined. On her drive home from work every day, she saw groups of scrappy kids, with shaved haircuts, oversized jeans, and high-top sneakers spending their time skating in streets and courtyards.
"I got to thinking that those are kids who don't want to do PE," Sterchy says. "But they want to skate; they will do exercise."
Amy Arman is one of them. Suited up in skates, knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, and helmet, Amy can skate with the best of them. But the 14-year-old Teague Middle School student maintains that she is no athlete. She doesn't participate in sports and rarely undertakes any kind of physical activity on her own. Yet she loves coming to PE.
"This is fun, and it's something I could learn to do," Amy says.
The program is one of the most popular among students in the district and has won national acclaim. And to date, not a single serious injury has been reported.