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Proposed PE curriculum eliminates sports, encourages fitness
OXFORD HILLS — Physical education in SAD 17 will undergo a radical change, if a new curriculum developed by the district's PE department is approved by the school board next fall.
Long gone are the days of dodging rubber balls and climbing ropes in school gymnasiums. Now, the focus is on physical fitness and giving students the knowledge and resources they will need to make decisions about their health and well-being in the future.
That means sports are out, says SAD 17 PE department head Jen Cash – don't expect students to learn how to shoot a basketball, swing a tennis racket or catch a fly ball.
Instead, the proposed curriculum emphasizes general concepts about cardiovascular health and developing skills to make fitness part of students' "life-long learning," Cash says.
Cash and the district's 10 PE teachers have been working for at least a year on the new K-12 "spiral" curriculum. The aim is to build on and strengthen students' knowledge year after year.
The department wants to use the new curriculum to boost PE's profile as an academic subject, equivalent in importance to math or English, Cash says.
"Students will have an essential question, a standard they need to meet and unit vocabulary they will need to go over," Cash says. "It will be just the same as other subjects."
Even though specific sports are being eliminated from the curriculum, athletic concepts are not.
Teachers will be given flexibility to use their preferred sports and activities to teach topics like "principles of opposition," "simple and complex passing" and "movement patterns."
Cash says the new curriculum will include high school electives like outdoor adventure, life-long fitness, golf and team sports, allowing students to try new activities like kayaking or hiking.
By offering students multiple choices in PE activities, the district hopes they will find an activity that lights their passion and that they might pursue after the semester is over, Cash says. The PE department got the idea by asking students what activities they wanted provided to them.
High school students will be expected to set their own fitness goals and learn how to manage their health and wellness, developing skills they can take out of the classroom and into everyday life, explains Kathy Elkins, the SAD 17 curriculum director.
"Kids need to know, as they are doing a certain exercise on a treadmill, as an example, what's happening to their bodies, what's happening to their heart rate, and why that's important for their fitness and their health," Elkins says.
Improving student health has been a central focus of the district for the past few years, after Oxford County was placed dead last in state-wide health rankings. In 2011, SAD 17 was awarded a $1.2 million Physical Education Program grant to help improve student health and encourage fitness.
The grant money has been used to purchase resources like state-of-the-art fitness equipment for the high and middle school, kayaks, canoes, cross-country skis and snowshoes, as well as professional development for teachers.
The resources gained through the PEP grant, particularly technology like heart-rate monitors, feature prominently in the new curriculum, particularly at the high school level, Cash explains.
The curriculum at the elementary level, however, may not see the same big change. Unlike semester-long PE courses in the upper grades, elementary students get only 40 minutes of PE once a week, Cash says.
The limitations of elementary PE are being augmented by additional classroom time for health and programming at Roberts Farm and the Bryant Pond 4H camp, Cash explains.
"What we don't want is everyone playing basketball, so it's five kids playing and 15 kids watching – we want the kids to be doing something all the time."
The PE department is putting the finishing touches on the proposed new curriculum, which will then go through several rounds of review at the district before being presented to the board, as early as the first meeting in September.