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Study: New P.E. Curriculum Improves Students' Fitness

A study by researchers at UCLA found that a physical education program that places fitness equipment in underserved schools and implements a curriculum based on boosting confidence and making fitness participation more enjoyable dramatically increases students’ performance on California’s standardized physical fitness test.

The study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Education and Training Studies. In the study, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning and the associate dean in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, reported the curriculum, called the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, tripled the percentage of students who passed the state Fitnessgram test in schools where the program was used. The average pass rate went from 20 percent prior to the use of the curriculum to an average pass rate of 60 percent following the completion of the program.

The study also found there was an increase in students’ confidence levels, enjoyment of physical activity and knowledge about fitness at the end of the program.

Loukaitou-Sideris and a team of UCLA graduate students followed 640 students attending five inner-city schools during the 2012-13 school year. The students ranged from seventh to 10th grade. They spent eight weeks in physical education classes that followed the Sound Body Sound Mind curriculum. Students, parents and teachers were asked to respond to questionnaires before and after the program was implemented. The teachers were also interviewed and students’ Fitnessgram scores were analyzed.

According to Loukaitou-Sideris, "Further research is needed to evaluate the impact of the SBSM curriculum on students in more schools, and especially to look at the impact on students of various ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well the long-term impact of the program.”

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The program has already been implemented at almost 100 middle and high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The majority of these schools are in low-income communities. Over 400 educators have been trained on the curriculum.

Philanthropists Cindy and Bill Simon created the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation in 1999, and UCLA Health adopted the program earlier this year.

The program addresses the problem of obesity and overweight in youth with state-of-the-art fitness programs and a curriculum that consists of 30 lesson plans focused on mastering basic physical tasks. The activities are all designed for small spaces and don’t require gyms or large multipurpose rooms, which many inner-city schools don’t have.

Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School in San Pedro wasn’t part of the study, but uses the curriculum. They saw a large increase in students who passed the Fitnessgram test, going from 37 percent to 82 percent.

Brooklin Brumund, the athletic director at the school, said Sound Body Sound Mind “changed the entire outlook our students have on fitness. A lot of these kids come from families where exercise and healthy lifestyles are not promoted. Many have never been involved in recreational sports. At the beginning some of them complained about hating anything physically strenuous, and now they are running miles, passing the physical fitness test, and showing confidence that they've never had before. It's been an amazing transformation."

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Nathan Nambiar is the executive director of the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation and community engagement manager at UCLA Health. He said the curriculum focuses on students as individuals instead of having them compete against each other, which makes it more enjoyable.

"At the core of the teaching strategy is creating a welcoming environment, removing intimidation and demonstrating to students that they can improve their fitness by focusing on their own achievement rather than comparing themselves to others."

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