Richard Simmons: Fit Kids Are Smart Kids

August 24, 2007 1 min read

In 11 years at Education Week, I’ve covered State of the Union Addresses, visited dozens of schools, and traveled to Antarctica. But I’ve never interviewed a Hollywood celebrity.

Until today.

Fitness guru Richard Simmons read my item about the House bill he’s endorsing to add physical education requirements under NCLB. One of his assistants called to tell me Simmons would like to talk. I left him a message, and he called back five minutes later. You can listen to our 15-minute conversation here. (He does most of the talking.)

He explains that he’s taking on this campaign because he wants his legacy to be helping to end childhood obesity. He tells of his failed attempt to get an audience with President Bush. “He’s declined to see me. He’s busy. The man is busy. There’s wars. There’s stuff. Sometimes you forget there’s a war on obesity in America, which is an epidemic right now.”

He did, however, meet with Rep. George Miller, the chairman of the House education committee, and hopes to win the Democrat’s support.

Although Simmons says the goal that elementary schools have 150 minutes of PE each week is ambitious, he says it would pay off. “Kids learn more if they’re physically active. My big question is: Why is nobody pushing to get PE back in our schools when it’s the only answer we have to save our children?”

In the final minute of our conversation, his voice rises to crescendo: “I think we all have to join hands together and say, ‘Hey, put physical education in a fun way in the schools and the test scores will go up! Why not even try it? Give it a year, and I promise you the test scores will go up.”

Listening to it, I realize I was practically speechless. Wouldn’t you have been?

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.