Students encouraged to get out, exercise
Dorothy Cole does not believe that physical education stops when gym class is over.
So starting this spring, students from West View, Northway and Seville elementary schools in the North Hills School District will participate in a program that will try to get them to keep in shape throughout the day.
Cole, who is organizing the program, said that her West View Elementary gym students will be getting exercise outside of the gym, including at recess and when they go home.
"We're saying 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy," Cole said. "It's about a mile a day, approximately."
While the program is still being conceptualized, Cole said she anticipates other fitness benchmarks to crop up throughout the year.
The school nurse already has agreed to do height and weight measurements before and after the program. The program received a grant from a district program that provides up to $500 for certain special projects.
"We're looking at the president's Active Lifestyle Awards. This program would be better adapted for older kids and will allow them to exercise during recess and at home. Sports would be incorporated," she said. "Under the program, students need to work out so many days a week for six weeks in order to get an award."
Students also will track their distances by using pedometers.
Part of that includes a mileage club, a program that will have students take the distances they walk or run during recess and post the distances on a map with cities and their known distances from Pittsburgh. Classes who walk to the furthest city will get rewards, Cole said.
Cheryl Yendell, co-president of the West View PTA, which is paying for pedometers at that school, said the parents support the program.
"Originally, we were going to fund the program, but Dot Cole got a grant," Yendell said. "She asked us if we would still provide money for the program. We said, 'Just let us know what you need, and we'll fund it.'"
Because each child is different and comes from a different background, Cole said, the level of exercise each child gets is different as well.
"It depends on the socioeconomic factors in their lives. It depends on whether they have two parents who are working," she said. "With sports being at different times of the year, some times are down times for the children. It doesn't have to be formal exercise. It could be playing with your dog. It could be walking around the block."
North Hills spokeswoman Tina Vojtko said the program not only will stress fitness, it will cut down on incidents of misbehavior on the playground.
"It's not a discipline tool, but organized play ends up being a deterrent on the playground," she said. "They are promoting healthy lifestyle. Of course, exercise is an integral part of that. I think we have a highly motivated staff for them to implement an exercise program at an elementary level."
Cole said the program eventually will address new state standards for physical education.
"This year, since it will be a pilot program, we will determine how to do that in the short amount of time that we have," she said.
Shanna McClintock, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said new physical education requirements have yet to be approved by the state attorney general's office before they go into effect.
They already were approved by the state Board of Education, she said.
Cole said that nutrition also will be addressed, but not in depth.
"It will not be a heavy instructional thing, but well talk about it as how it relates to performance," she said. "Depending on the grade level, it will depend on how in-depth we get."