Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Let's Get Physical

Last night we had a Board meeting in which we discussed some new cost estimates for our athletic fields. This is a hotly debated issue primarily because we have an older facility whose fields are in the autumn of their life-cycle and although the track is the most pressing need the rest of the fields are racing toward obsolescence as well.

The issues are complex. The fields serve a multiplicity of users - high school and community sports teams, gym classes, and community players. Cost [e.g. local taxes] is an obvious flash point.

The following recent stories illustrate just how twisted the public dialogs on this subject can get.

The first story is a narrative about a disabled girl denied a diploma for being unable to perform a physical exercise she's incapable of doing.
Brittany has Ichthyosis, a rare skin disorder. According to Ms. Amos, "Her skin flakes and falls off all the time. She itches and scratches most of the time, her feet and hands crack open, and she has very little hair and wears a ball cap most of the time." Because of her condition, Brittany cannot walk or run far in the sun, and, said Ms. Amos, she submitted a dermatologist's note stating that she would be unable to run a mile during her fitness course. The family was told that the fitness course does not accept doctor's notes in order to excuse a student from an activity.

Ms. Amos says her niece was not notified that she wouldn't get to graduate until just four days prior to the ceremony. "On Thursday morning before graduation on June 3rd, 2008, she went to school for Baccalaureate practice and was told she would not graduate because of the fitness course," said Amos. "I feel like since Brittany looks like she does and is not popular, even though she is an honor student, they just did not care about her."

Brittany didn't let the school's decision prevent her from moving forward and obtaining her diploma. She's since completed a fitness course online, said Ms. Amos, and has received her diploma. Brittany was even able to participate in a graduation ceremony despite Lake Wales High School's decision to bar her from graduating with her classmates.
Wow. It never ceases to amaze the public how dumb and inflexible so-called educational institutions can be but the story ends with the victim taking a physical education class online!

Let's take a closer look at that phenomenon. The New York Times story, Public Schools Begin to Offer Gym Classes Online by Sam Dillon describes the phenomenon.
One of the first schools to offer physical education online, in 1997, was Florida Virtual School. It is now the nation's largest public online school, with 21,000 students taking at least one course. Personal fitness, the online version of the state's physical education requirement, was the school's most popular course last year, attracting 4,500 students. (Second-most popular was economics, with 2,400 students.)

Abbie Modaff files workout reports from her computer at home.

Some students, including a blind teenager in Miami and a student in Melbourne, Fla., who was recovering from a kidney transplant, signed up because their health problems prevented their taking regular gym classes, said Jo Wagner, one of Florida Virtual's lead instructors. But Ms. Wagner said most students took the course to free their schedules for foreign languages and other electives at their traditional schools.

The same pattern holds in Minneapolis, where Abbie Modaff, a sophomore, is taking her second semester of online gym this summer. The daughter of self-described "strugglingly middle-class" parents, she signed up last spring to open time in a schedule snarled with English, Latin, biology, world studies and advanced mathematics classes, not to mention horseback lessons, soccer games and concert band.

This summer, Abbie has been training for a triathlon, so she has e-mailed reports on swimming, biking and jogging workouts to her instructor, Tamara Cowan, who is teaching online gym to 31 Minneapolis students this summer from a friend's home in Sacramento.

"When I'm not feeling like I'm about to die, running can be incredibly good," Ms. Modaff wrote to Ms. Cowan in one workout journal in July.

Last spring, when Ms. Modaff sought to use her horseback rides to fulfill some workout requirements, Mr. Goodrich balked. But using a heart monitor, Ms. Modaff documented that her pulse frequently surged to a pounding 170 beats per minute as she flexed her legs and torso to guide her horse through a dressage course. Mr. Goodrich assented.

"She showed us that her heart rate was elevated, and her muscle strength was improving," he said.

Because the class has faced much questioning, the district issues heart monitors, requiring that students send pulse data to teachers and that parents sign the workout reports.

Mr. Goodrich and Ms. Cowan are also on the lookout for cheats. Mr. Goodrich recently sat on his couch in sweat pants and a T-shirt, and, peering into the screen of his Macintosh, signed on to the school district's Web site. He found 31 student e-mail messages documenting recent workouts. There was also a message from a student who pleaded the equivalent of "my dog ate my homework."

"I have just got back in town for three days and then I will be gone for three days," the student wrote to Mr. Goodrich. "I am trying to get as much work done as possible. Thanks."

Mr. Goodrich checked the student's preliminary grades and found she was hopelessly behind with her assignments. He would send her a warning, he said, and predicted she would fail the course.

About 20 percent of the students dropped out of online gym in the spring, said Jan Braaten, the district's lead physical education instructor.

"Even though we told them it would be as hard as or harder than traditional P.E., some thought it was going to be a cakewalk," Ms. Braaten said.

Even the course's author, Brenda Corbin, who writes curriculums for the Minneapolis district, was dismissive at first.

"I refused to be a part of it," Ms. Corbin said of her initial reaction a year ago, when Ms. Braaten and district administrators approached her about writing the physical education course.

"How do you know they're really working out?" Ms. Corbin said she asked.

But she later changed her mind. "I was uninformed about what you can do over the computer," she said.
I don't know about all this. Confusing physical therapy with physical education or treating recreational hobbies such as horse-back riding with sport is not an educational exercise per se. That is to say, that although your heart may race faster for performing the activity, one could argue that watching a scary movie makes one heart race as well. Does a person deserve "credit" for that?

The distinction is important because of the concerns raised by the following news item about a study from Britain.
While 70 per cent of parents said their own greatest childhood adventures were among rivers, trees and woods, only 29 per cent of today's children said their favourite play experiences were outdoors.
Not all child's play: Wrapping youngsters in cotton wool is not preparing them for setbacks and contributing to the rise in mental illness in young people

Child's play: Wrapping youngsters in cotton wool is not preparing them for setbacks in adult life

While 73 per cent of seven to 12-year-olds could surf the internet unsupervised, 42 per cent were not allowed to play in their local park without an adult.

A third could not ride a bike to a friend's house or play in their local streets unsupervised.

But the survey of 1,030 children and 1,030 adults found many parents were too busy to watch their children playing.

Adrian Voce, director of the charity Play England that carried out the research, said: 'It's not the end of the world if a child has an accident.
Resilience: Children can adapt

Resilience: Children can take a bit of rough and tumble

Playing is an essential part of growing up and adventurous play that both challenges and excites children helps instil critical life skills.

'Constantly wrapping children in cotton wool can leave them ill-equipped to deal with stressful or challenging situations they might encounter later in life.

Three times as many children are put in hospital each year from falling out of bed as from tumbling from a tree, the researchers said.
At EO Smith, the goal of many people involved with the school is to get our kids out into the sun exercising in a social atmosphere.

Demonstrably healthy. What a concept.

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