Physical Education Strategic Plan Focuses on More Active Approach to P.E.

July 26, 2012

by Lizzy Parker, HSC intern

In June, the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Department of Public Health, and Illinois Public Health Institute released the Illinois Enhanced Physical Education Strategic Plan, which recommends all Illinois students participate in high-quality daily P.E. classes and outlines recommendations for making those classes as active as possible. The goal is to “inspire a culture shift that makes high quality P.E. and wellness a priority for all schools and children in Illinois.” To do so, schools are urged to re-evaluate the structure of gym classes and move toward an enhanced and more active, or “new,” P.E.

Over the past decade, schools around the country have made news for offering non-traditional P.E. classes that help students develop the skills and habits for lifelong fitness rather than just competitive sports.

Perhaps the most notable is Naperville Central High School (NCHS) in the Chicago suburbs. Nearly two decades ago, Phil Lawler decided to completely change the way the Naperville school district conducted gym classes. Instead thinking of P.E. as an activity for the athletically gifted, Lawler envisioned a more all-inclusive program that would get all students active. Instead of a low-impact game of baseball, Lawler had students run a mile for time. He gave less athletic students the option to ride stationary bikes. His “New P.E.” would assess students on effort rather than skill. The program has evolved, and in recent years, students have learned to use heart rate monitors, cardio machines, and lift weights. 

Lawler inspired many others, including Tim McCord, the physical education coordinator in the Titusville school district in Pennsylvania. McCord proved that NCHS’s P.E. program was not only for schools in affluent suburbs. A rural community, Titusville is home primarily to low income families and school funding is tight. But with some creativity, McCord has gradually established a P.E. program to the caliber of NCHS. Most of the funds have come from the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP). Programs such as the PEP, PE4life, and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance’s National Association for Sport and Physical Education have helped schools with limited resources provide students with innovative ways to exercise in P.E.

Though it does not specifically name them, the Illinois Enhanced P.E. plan draws from the new approach to P.E. in these programs. According to Stephen Archer, MD, President of the Metropolitan Chicago American Heart Association Board of Directors: 

The new Phys-Ed is about participation, simply getting kids moving, not a call for extreme athletics. Research from the AHA shows that the simple act of exercising 30 minutes a day confers life-long health benefits. If all K-12 schools implement a comprehensive physical education curriculum that is based on best-practices, we will save money and save lives.

The new curriculum will engage students in daily physical activity, while also providing them with valuable skills on how lead a healthy lifestyle going into adulthood.

This means benefits not only for health but for learning as well. State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch sums it up saying, “We shouldn’t have to choose between teaching students how to read and teaching them the skills to live a healthy life. This plan is a guidepost for how we can do both and improve our children’s educational outcomes at the same time.”

Plus: What is different about New P.E.? See the Illinois Enhanced P.E. Strategic Plan Fact Sheet for a comparison of old and new activities. Curious how other schools are making changes to their P.E. programs? See how Saratoga High School in San Francisco is shaping up, and the alternative gym classes these schools offer.

Bonus: To learn more about the Illinois Enhanced Physical Education Strategic Plan, register for the Illinois Public Health Institute's “Exercise Your Mind: Collaborating To Enhance Physical Education In Illinois Schools” webinar on Friday, August 17 at 1 p.m. Central, they created a flyer for more information. Click here to register!