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Ever since the Commission on Excellence in Education published the Nation at Risk in 1983, school systems across America have been racing to improve academic performance. Over the years this issue has become a major political priority. Simply put, both parties had their ideas about how to reform public education. Both sides of the political spectrum have raised credible arguments and both found common ground in national standards and high stakes testing to improve education. But that strategy has created some negative unintended consequences. As in many real life situations, when we intervene to improve circumstances, we often succeed but at a cost that questions the effort. For example, when school systems have chosen to freeze employee salaries, relieving short-term financial pressures. The unfortunate consequence of this move often leads to decreased employee morale and less productivity. Other school systems maintain employee salaries but cut or reduce programs. It is my contention that the most destruction occurs when school systems start to play around with decreased physical education and/or fitness programs.

The movement to raise the bar on student achievement has created a nearly singular focus on the improvement of test scores. With best intentions, nearly every school has been attempting to squeeze every academic minute out of every day in order to improve academic achievement. When physical education and movement are decreased for this purpose, we place our students at risk. Activity is essential for the developing brains of our young people. Exercise improves the flow of oxygen to the brain and actually grows new brain cells. Research reveals that aerobic activity increases our capacity to focus and learn and attention is crucial for memory retention. Raising the bar on fitness will actually help schools achieve their goals of increased student achievement.

The “squeeze play” has been affecting our schools for some time. Fortunately, however, there exist educational systems where strong physical education programs and high academic standards are not mutually exclusive. For example, Phil Lawler, former Naperville 203 district P.E. coordinator, spent his career leading a revolution to improve physical education in our schools. With the help of others, he created a physical education model that focused on the improvement of fitness for every American child. He shifted the emphasis in his program from a sports model to a fitness model. The goal was to improve every individual’s fitness level and create a positive life long attitude toward wellness. His program, passion, and mission, called The New P.E., embodies the essence of “no child left behind!”

Phil’s program worked because he made it possible for every single person to be successful in his program. Every student in this program is now evaluated based on his or her own potential, eliminating the old norm where only the best athletes achieved an ‘A’ in physical education. The model is the epitome of individualized instruction. He made sure everyone has a chance to succeed and eliminated the days of dodge ball, as well as intimidation in physical education. It is no wonder why so many adults have negative memories about physical education and haven’t been able to harness the need or knowledge of physical activity in their aging lives.

The New P.E. is very interested in motivating students to adopt healthy life styles through a strong fitness and health program. One aspect of The New P.E. that creates a motivated student body involves activity choices that meet the individual needs and interests of its students. A new and exciting example of this diversity is the creative and innovative exergaming equipment that Naperville 203 included as a part of each student’s physical education experience. Students are riding Gamebikes, BrainBikes, dancing on DDR’s and exercising on equipment called Xavixs and Sportswalls. These are only a few examples of what students now experience in an effort to draw them into movement and life choices that are fun and at the same time benefit their entire cardio and physical health. Exergaming has unbelievable potential to add excitement and energy to any physical education program. As a principal of an elementary school and an advocate of exercise as it relates to enhanced achievement, I became a close observer of Phil’s work. I eventually put in a twenty-eight station exergaming lab in my elementary school that motivated kids to exercise in a way that I had never previously witnessed in my 30 years as a principal. Any educator, who believes that schools are partially responsible for teaching healthy lifestyle options, influencing the rate of childhood obesity, and educating the youth on the relationship between activity and achievement, should investigate the value of adding Exergame Fitness equipment to your school and/or physical education program. You and your students will be glad

you did!

It is time for schools to revisit what educating the “whole child” means and realize that the old saying “a healthy mind and a healthy body” go hand in hand. Our students are suffering the unintended consequences of high stakes testing and the reduction of physical education and recess time. Equally as compelling is the growing body of research that reports a strong correlation between fitness and student achievement. A sound mind and a sound body were never intended to be separate missions for schools. The unintended consequences carry a heavy price for kids that adults are responsible for creating. But options exist that can change the trend that has jeopardized the health and wellness of our kids. The shift to New P.E. will create fit students and help turn on their brains for improved reception and better retention. Let’s get our kids moving and don’t forget to make it fun!!

DAN LAWLER Ph.D
Exergame Fitness Advisory Board Member
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