Are Schools Ethically Responsible to Provide

The Past and the Present

My fondest memories of childhood are the days I spent playing with my friends in a small Northern Mississippi town. I belonged to a small clan of children who did not have much in common with today’s children. We had no video games, no cable television, no internet, and no cellular phones. All we had were each other and our imaginations. I remember spending hours riding bikes up and down the old country road. We played hide-and-seek, tackle football, sword fights with sticks, and many other games that our imaginations brought us.

I remember school being full of exciting games and activities on the playground in which our teachers would participate and make it all the more fun. We loved school and all the rich experiences that occurred in the classroom, in the gym, and on the play-ground.

Are these the days of old? Reality hit a few months ago when my son invited a school-mate to spend the night. I took the boys outside to play a little catch. After only a few minutes, my son’s friend was sweating immensely and short of breath. It was very obvious that he rarely played outside. He quickly asked if he could go inside to cool off and play more video games.

Today, at the young age of 37 (at least I think so), I still have a love for the outdoors. I enjoy running, playing basketball, hiking nature trails, fishing, and paddling in my canoe. I have shared that love with my children. I attribute this to the rich experiences of my childhood.

Today, with all the modern comforts and technologies, one of our biggest failures is the neglect we have shown towards our children. In a way, we have made life too easy for them and ourselves with air conditioned homes and schools, video games, cable and satellite networks with hundreds of channels to choose. It is no wonder why children elect to stay inside!

The Crisis

Many experts state that our nation’s youth are in a dire state. Some say this is the first generation that are not expected to out-live their parents. Due to increased pressures from No Child Left Behind for schools to make annual yearly progress (AYP) on standardized tests and from the recent budget crisis that have affected most of the state education agencies in the United States, many school districts have removed Health and Physical Education programs from their curriculums.

The Past and the Present

A national study in 2000 surveyed the after-school activities of America’s youth. Over three-million children reported staying home alone after school up to 47 minutes, many children between the ages of 11 and 12 reported being home up to an hour and 15 minutes. The big question is, what do they do? Many reported sedentary activities such as watching television, personal care, doing their homework, and eating snacks (Jacobson, 2000). With today’s fast moving pace, more children are spending time alone. In most cases, both parents work, or there is only one custodial parent. Due to the changes in family dynamics that were previously mentioned, children need more guidance in the areas of health and fitness; schools are a logical choice.

As an educator, I feel that schools have an ethical responsibility to educate the whole child: socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically. All things are relative. For example, one reason health insurance premiums are so high these days are due to the rise in preventable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Wouldn’t it make sense to educate our future generations so that this trend can be reduced? One of the biggest problems with educational leaders is their lack of vision and short-sightedness.

From an educational stand-point there have been many studies that show a relationship between physical activity and academic achievement. For example, a national survey in 2006 analyzed 12,000 U.S. high school students. Those students who reported participating in physical education, school sports, or participating in physical activities with family members were reported to be 29% more likely to than non-participating peers to earn an “A” in math or English (Nelson and Gordon-Larsen, 2006). A study in 2003 revealed evidence that regular physical exercise improves cognitive function in key academic related areas such as IQ, concentration, and math achievement (Sibley, 2003). There are many more examples such as these, which makes it even more surprising that many school districts across America continue to cut physical education from their curriculums.

That being said, I would like to share some ideas with fellow school administrators on how they can promote healthy living among the students and faculty at their schools. One of the hats that I wear as an educational leader is that of a school health coordinator. Below, are some examples that school leaders can implement in their schools.

  1. Physical Education: Not only should schools offer physical education as an elective, schools should do their best to promote the program and encourage students to register every year, particularly at the upper elementary and middle school levels.
  2. Healthy Snacks: One way to encourage healthy eating habits is to remove unhealthy choices and give students the opportunity to try healthy alternatives. Schools might even offer free samples as encouragement. It has been my experience that once students try healthy snacks such as: whole grain cereal bars, fruits, cheeses, and yogurt, they discover that they actually like them and even prefer them over the traditional unhealthy alternatives.
  3. Healthy Options in the cafeteria: It is also important to offer healthy choices as part of the school menu and assist cafeteria staff in promoting these choices.
  4. Health Education: Incorporating health topics into the curriculum is a great way to spark interests in healthy lifestyles at an early age. There are a variety of creative ways to incorporate health objectives into both general and physical education curriculums. There are a multitude of websites and publications where teachers and administrators can attain ideas.
  5. Form a School Health Council: Many schools have begun to form councils that involve stakeholders from both inside and outside of the school. Their goal is to improve the overall health of the students and faculty members, as well as the people in community. Many schools set-up after school exercise programs for students, faculty members, and parents. Some form alliances with civic and private organizations in order to get their message out to the public.
  6. Health Fair: One thing we do at my school is host a yearly health fair that invites local businesses and organizations that promote physical activity. This gives students the opportunity to experience first hand the options that are available in their own community. Examples include: the local civic parks and recreation department, Boy Scout troops, businesses that teach cheer and dance, businesses that teach martial arts, running clubs/organizations, and local fitness gyms that offer memberships to students. These are just a few, every community has their share.
  7. In-Class Interventions: Many classroom teachers, especially at the elementary level incorporate stretching and exercises at different times of the school-day. Research has shown a link between physical movement and cognitive function. Allowing the students to perform a few mild stretches and exercises beside their desk is a great way to keep students engaged and to promote physical health. My school allows classes to walk around the building after leaving the lunchroom, students and teachers enjoy this and it doesn’t take time from instruction.
  8. Walking Clubs: Encourage faculty members and students to establish after school walking clubs and invite parents to participate. This is a great way to involve the whole community. Also, encourage teachers to walk the halls during plan time, this is a great way for them to relieve stress and from an administrator’s stand-point, it’s another set of eyes watching the building!

Ethical Responsibility

Given the evidence reported above, is it ethical for school districts to cut physical education and health programs in their schools? Are schools limited to merely teaching the three R’s? I think not, the situation is dire. The health and happiness of future generations are at stake. In order to preserve a future, school officials must act today!