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A study produced by a pair of health advocacy groups in the United States claims that American schools aren’t providing enough physical education for students. And while the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system isn’t covered in the state-by-state analysis, experts in Europe admit that American military community facilities aren’t meeting many of the recommendations, either.

“There’s always room for improvement,” said Deanna Burelli, instruction systems specialist responsible for elementary and middle school physical education and health for DODDS-Europe.

Though the study attributes some of the decline of time students spend in stateside physical-education classes to schools’ efforts to boost test scores under the No Child Left Behind act, officials say that’s not the case in Europe.

“If anything, we’re increasing the level of physical education,” said Karen Seadore, instruction systems specialist for high school P.E. and athletics. In fact, students in the class of 2008 will be required to have three semesters of physical education to graduate from high school instead of the two that this year’s seniors must have.

Still, that’s short of the recommendations in the “2006 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA.” Produced by the American Heart Association and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the report says that no state is currently meeting all its recommendations.

The report, available in PDF form at www.aahperd.org/naspe/, recommends all elementary students engage in at least 150 minutes of physical education a week, with those in middle and high school getting 225 minutes a week. Only a few students at some schools are meeting those goals in DODDS, Seadore said.

While those are numbers that Seadore and Burelli don’t have problems with, they say there are other numbers to consider as well. Such as the number of physical-education instructors working in DODDS-Europe, the facilities available and the amount of money in the system.

Seadore said DODDS allots specialists for subjects such as physical education, music and art on a 500 to 1 basis. So a school that has 700 students will usually have only P.E. teacher — often responsible for teaching all the students in a school. Even if there were more teachers available, though, most schools don’t have enough facilities to accommodate more students taking physical education at the same time.

“At many of our schools, we cannot go outside every day,” Seadore said. “The weather won’t allow it.”

“More isn’t always better if you have three classes in a space built for one,” Burelli said.

The biggest number in play could be the number of hours in the day set aside for school, though.

Tim Erickson, principal at Aviano Elementary School, said students have one special class period every day. That’s divided each week between art, music, physical education and host nation language. So elementary students at Aviano have one 50-minute period a week of organized physical education.

That’s not counting recess, which has traditionally been seen as an outlet for such activities. But Burelli said the two are not the same.

“We need more physical education,” she said. “Some people think that recess can replace physical education and that’s a bad road to go down.”

Both Seadore and Burelli said they realize those who teach other subjects want more time as well, and many have good arguments. And DODDS is unlikely to expand the school day.

Ironically, Burelli said, several studies have shown that students engaged in physical activities do better on tests in other subjects than those who aren’t as active.

“Every day, you pick up a newspaper or magazine and read about the levels of obesity,” she said. “You almost have to live in a vacuum to not realize the situation.”

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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