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TORII STATION, Okinawa — Physical education within the Pacific Department of Defense schools is moving away from the dodgeball era into a curriculum of high-tech gizmos stressing lifetime activities.

Last week, 28 high school teachers from 12 schools in Japan, South Korea, Okinawa and Guam got a five-day course in next-generation equipment and techniques. Only Pusan American, which is closing in June, was not at the conference.

It’s part of what Patty Petty, PE chief for Department of Defense Dependents Schools–Pacific, calls a “paradigm shift” toward 21st-century lifestyle concerns: obesity, diabetes and spending more time indoors at computers or in front of televisions.

“We’re no longer recreational facilitators; we’re physical educators,” Petty said. “We’re moving away from PE being high-school recess and a breeding ground for varsity sports. This is all about … being educated about fitness, nutrition and activities available for all interests for life.”

Petty and three stateside-based instructors taught the weeklong course at DODDS-Pacific’s regional office on Torii Station. They helped put the 28 teachers through the paces of the Tri-Fit stations, which test students’ flexibility, strength, heart rate and rhythm and monitor their progress over time.

The stations — costing about $8,000 each — include flexibility and strength-testing components, a Monark ergometric fitness cycle used for heart monitoring and a laptop computer to record and store students’ data.

Petty said all DODDS-Pacific schools already have Tri-Fit station hardware and software. DODDS-Pacific bought six of the Monark cycles. One each will be sent to Kubasaki and Kadena on Okinawa, Seoul American in South Korea, Guam High and Yokota and Nile C. Kinnick in Japan. Other schools will measure heart rates with Tri-Fit chest and wristband monitors.

Teachers also were briefed on life skills they’re to teach students to provide “alternate physical activities,” said instructor Carol Drechsel from the Department of Defense Education Activity headquarters in Washington. They include noncompetitive tai chi, yoga, line dancing, bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and cross-country skiing.

“This gives the nonathletic student a chance to succeed and even excel in activities they’d enjoy,” she said. “Twenty percent of our students participate in varsity sports. There has to be something for the other 80 percent.”

Said DODDS-Pacific director Nancy Bresell, “This is exactly the direction that we need to reach all kids … even the competitive athletes will be interested.” The new program, she said, “will speak to them in ways the ‘old PE’ did not.”

Some teachers said they feel the new equipment and curriculum will benefit them as well as their high-tech-savvy students.

“We have to cater to a different type of student,” said Julian Harden, a PE teacher and wrestling, softball and football coach at Seoul American. “They don’t have the same interests that we did. There’s a lot of good in this.”

“It will be a big advantage,” said Larry Allen, 65, admittedly one who used to track his students’ fitness with paper and pencil. “We want to die young at a very old age, and this will help us do that.”

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