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Chicago Daily Herald
Jump ropes, aerobic bands, stability balls and other equipment to get individual students moving might overtake team sports as the cornerstone of physical education classes in middle schools of the state's second-largest school district.
A new physical education curriculum for Elgin Area School District U-46's eight middle schools is under review. It would go beyond such sports as basketball and soccer and emphasize solo activities to engage students and, accordingly, improve student performance in the classroom.
"Physical education needs to look different because not everybody is physically engaged and active, and participating (in sports) ... it's just not what they want to do or it's not what they are good at," said Tracey Jakaitis, U-46 student wellness coordinator.
"This curriculum very much is moving away from a team sport model focus, and it's bringing a lot more opportunities for fitness and individual student growth," she said. "We need our elementary and our middle school students to experience a variety of activities - not basketball, volleyball, badminton and soccer every year. You have to find something they like."
Officials propose using heart-rate monitors to track students' fitness levels, count steps and calories and to help them learn how physical activity affects their health.
"The districts around us are still very much doing a sports model," Jakaitis said. "Everybody is trying to incorporate the heart-rate technology ... we are a little bit behind on that piece."
In 2015, U-46 implemented new physical education curriculum and resources in its 40 elementary schools. The proposed middle school curriculum and resources align with and extend the concepts and skills taught in elementary grades, as well as revised national and state standards.
Students would be exposed to fitness concepts, such as target heart rate, teamwork, biomechanical principals of movement, personal fitness analysis and goal setting, and assessments to help determine areas of strength and develop goals for improvement.
"We're going to actually get them moving ... in a way that they have never seen before," said Mary Juvingo, physical education teacher at Kenyon Woods Middle School in South Elgin.
Illinois requires daily physical education for all students in kindergarten through 12th grades. And reporting fitness tests is required for students in third through 12th grades.
The state's Enhanced Physical Education Task Force Report says students who are more physically active perform better in the classroom and on standardized tests, and they also have improved behaviors and overall health.
"Higher physical activity and physical fitness levels are associated with improved cognitive performance, such as concentration and memory, among students," said Chad Dahlman, physical education teacher at Abbott Middle School in Elgin.
Yet national research shows students spend less time actually being physically active during traditional physical education classes, which doesn't meet the 60 minutes per day of exercise recommended by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines.
"Evidence just gets stronger and stronger that getting kids engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity in physical education class yields the biggest benefits," said Michael Isaacson, an assistant community health director for the Kane County Health Department who served on the state task force. "This is a positive trend that is occurring. The types of interventions that U-46 is talking about implementing is exactly in line with what we know works. As part of our Making Kane County Fit for Kids Campaign, this is also exactly in line with what we're advocating.
"We're starting to see more schools utilizing heart-rate monitors and more schools moving to this individual fitness rather than your traditional team sports. Many kids end up having poor experiences with that old model."
The cost for curriculum and resources is $307,602 - and roughly $285,000 of that is for heart-rate monitors, iPads and other technical equipment.
School board members welcomed the approach and were given heart-rate monitors to test for a couple of weeks.
"We just want everybody to see why it is so valuable," Jakaitis said. "This piece of technology is what we need to change physical education."
If the board adopts the curriculum, officials propose to roll it out in seventh grade this fall and expand to eighth grade next year.
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