Area schools meeting new P.E. regulations

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A new mandate by the state Department of Education requiring allMississippi schools to offer physical education classes will havelittle effect here.

Schools in the area already offer physical education classes,but the Lincoln County School District will have to expand itsprograms to include more than elementary students.

The Brookhaven School District will be least affected by themandate because it already offers the class to its entire studentbody.

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“We have a designated physical education teacher on staff forgrades K-12,” said Lea Barrett, superintendent of Brookhavenschools.

Students at Mamie Martin Elementary School do not changeclassrooms during the day like the older students and physicaleducation is part of their “regular classroom instruction,” shesaid. Older students attend scheduled classes as part of theircurriculum.

Lawrence County School District also offers physical educationto its entire student body, said Sharon Dungan, federal programsand testing coordinator for the district. It is mandatory forgrades K-8 and as an elective at the high school.

In addition, she said, the district received a federal grantlast year that allowed them to devote an employee full-time tovisit each school every week to train teachers on how to instructstudents in physical education, paid for summer workshops to trainteachers, and purchased playground equipment for several of theschools.

Brookhaven Academy, a privately-funded school, is not affectedby the mandate, but does offer physical education classes to itselementary school grades.

Shane McNeil, a physical education specialist with theDepartment of Education, told The Associated Press that therequirement was based on concerns about childhood obesity and itseffect on kids’ quality of life and their ability to do well inschool. In Mississippi, one child in three is overweight.

The decision came after the nonprofit Action for Healthy Kids(AFHK) organization published the results of a study last week thatfound students’ academic achievement is affected adversely whenthey are not eating right or getting enough exercise.

The report, “The Learning Connection: The Value of ImprovingNutrition and Physical Activity in Our Schools,” summarizes “agrowing body of evidence demonstrating that poor nutrition,inactivity and weight problems can have a negative affect onstudent achievement. Additionally, the report indicates thatschools may be losing significant funding each year due to to theproblems associated with poor nutrition and physical inactivity -the root causes of obesity among American youth.”

The report was issued by AFHK, a public-private partnership ofmore than 40 national organizations and government agenciesrepresenting education, health, fitness and nutrition.

“The Learning Connection examines the impact of the root causesof childhood overweight and reveals a strong link betweenchildren’s health and academic success,” said Dr. David Satcher, aformer U.S. surgeon general and founding chair of AFHK.

While the report cautions that more research is needed tounderstand the link between poor nutrition, physical inactivity andacademic achievement, it makes a strong case that these factorshave an adverse affect on academic performance.

In evidence supporting their position, the report states that”children not getting adequate nutrients have lower test scores,increased absenteeism, difficulty concentrating and lower energylevels.”

The study also found that “students participating in dailyphysical education exhibit better attendance, a more positiveattitude to school, and superior academic performance.”