U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, visited an elementary school last week that is demonstrating a growing trend in physical education.
Slowly fading away are competition-based activities as the foundation of gym class. They tend to favor children who are athletic and are seen as sidelining less-skilled classmates.
Instead, programs like the one at Grundy Center Elementary School in Grundy Center, Iowa, represent the programs of the future. It features small-group activities and students’ setting their own fitness goals. The school is a training center for the nonprofit PE4life program, based in St. Louis.
PE4life promotes daily physical activity for students in all grades, in a format that can easily translate to lifelong healthy habits, said Shanna K. Goodman, the communications and corporate development manager for PE4life.
At Grundy Center Elementary, students can learn and exercise at the same time by going through the Heart Adventure Challenge, an obstacle course that represents the circulatory system.
The school also partners with the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, which enables seven graduate students each year to assist in teaching physical education classes.
Mr. Harkin, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, secured $476,000 in the federal fiscal 2009 budget to expand PE4life to more Iowa schools.
The goal of training centers in various communities is to show teachers, administrators, and community leaders that the tenets of the PE4Life philosophy can apply to different educational settings. Groups that visit the schools spend two days in training.
The organization tries to get a program firmly entrenched in a community, which is why the 9-year-old PE4life organization has chosen not to try to expand quickly, Ms. Goodman said.
As of March 2008, PE4life had trained more than 1,700 educators, administrators, and community leaders from 38 states, reaching nearly 2 million children.
“These are common-sense prevention efforts that will lead to healthier, more well-rounded kids,” Sen. Harkin said in a statement.
A version of this article appeared in the April 29, 2009 edition of Education Week