Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, May 17-28.
Of all the questions you put to your grade school teachers as a child, “Can we use the unicycles?” was probably not among them. Yes, PE has changed—at least in schools with the scratch to buy the unicycles, yoga mats, rock walls, and in-line skates now edging out dodgeball, rope climbing, and volleyball. With childhood obesity on the rise, some school officials are trying to introduce physical activity as something fun rather than regimented. “We don’t want to eliminate team sports,” says Anne Flannery, president of P.E.4LIFE, a Missouri-based nonprofit group that promotes physical education. “But those need to be balanced with health and wellness experiences, and learning, so the kids find what they love to do and are physically active their whole lives.”
Does catching a wave count as a “wellness experience”? Hawaii’s Board of Education apparently thinks so—it recently declared hanging ten an official high school sport after years of banning school-based surfing teams. Students’ desire to shoot the tube for interscholastic pride trumped concerns over sharks, liability, and collisions with other surfers in the sport’s birthplace.
Any doctor will tell you that physical exercise is a must for healthy living, but it would probably take a day-long PE period to work off all the junk food for sale in many schools. Enter Ed Wilkins, the interim director of student nutrition for San Francisco’s public schools, who has literally gutted the bulk of empty calories students once snacked on. French fries are no more. Soda has been banned. Twinkies are a thing of the past. Even the venerable bake sale is now verboten. In their place are salads, fresh fruit, and yogurt. Only the regular lunch line is exempt from the new policy, which was launched at a middle school last year, and has since gone district-wide. Food sales fell at first, Wilkins says, but have since bounced back—as have the students. Sylvia McClain, 12, said she’s lost five pounds on the new regimen. Before, she added, “I felt like a potato—a couch potato. I was really lazy and didn’t do anything. Now I’m more energetic.”
Speaking of empty calories, an honor student in Ohio was expelled and faces possible arrest on assault charges after he won a school contest to put a pie in his principal’s face. Students paid 50 cents per ticket to enter the drawing, which raised money to benefit the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, in the hope of winning the privilege of decorating principal Karen Abbott’s visage with an aluminum pie tin filled with whipped cream. The 5-foot-5-inch, 110-pound sophomore, whose name was not released, scored a bull’s-eye and headed back to his seat, only to find himself escorted to the office, where administrators called police, according to the 15-year-old’s father, Don Molnar. “This whole thing is totally wrong,” he said. But Danbury Township Police Chief Mike Meisler said the boy took the fun too far. “It wasn’t just a toss,” he reported. “He smashed the pie in her face.” Prosecutors are reviewing the case.
Teachers across the country found themselves accused of taking things too far the week of May 17 when they allowed students to watch the gruesome video of Nicholas Berg’s beheading downloaded from an Islamist Web site. High school teachers in Oregon, Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, and other states have been put on administrative leave, reprimanded, or are under investigation for either pointing students toward the video or not pulling the plug fast enough when students found it on their own. Many teachers, who said they were given little or no guidance from administrators on the matter, allowed kids to opt out of viewing the video. Several incorporated the event into their current events or social studies curricula.
Under a school board proposal that could be called “Take Your Parent to Detention Day,” the parents of chronically tardy and disruptive Middleboro High School students would have to join their kids in weekend detention. School officials have yet to weigh in on the idea, introduced by Middleboro School Board member Jeannie Martin. She said there are students who end up in detention time and time again, and others who skip detention in order to get a two-day suspension from school. “If a parent who works on Saturday had to miss a day of work to attend detention with their child, you can believe that parent will make sure their child doesn’t mess up again,” she explained. At least one parent, who refused to give her name, seems to think it’s a good idea. “I know how kids can act up in class because I was a kid once,” she said.
—Scott J. Cech