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Thirty-two students from Camp Zama High School condition during women's volleyball team tryouts as the run laps around the track at Camp Zama, Japan on Tuesday. The women's volleyball coach, Dennis Decker, said 28 will make the team.
Thirty-two students from Camp Zama High School condition during women's volleyball team tryouts as the run laps around the track at Camp Zama, Japan on Tuesday. The women's volleyball coach, Dennis Decker, said 28 will make the team. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

Between academics and study breaks, students at Department of Defense Dependents Schools in the Pacific may learn how to strike a tai chi pose this year.

As part of an increased emphasis on health and wellness across the Department of Defense Education Activity, this year’s seniors will be the first class to need three semesters of physical education to graduate. Part of the requirement is a “physical activity and nutrition” course that introduces students to alternative, noncompetitive sports and physical activities such as tai chi, yoga, aerobics and Pilates, according to Dr. Peggy Bullion, education division chief for DODDS-Pacific and Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools-Guam.

While the course has been offered before, this is the first year seniors need it to graduate, Bullion said.

The new graduation requirements come as DODDS-Pacific and DDESS-Guam schools introduce a new health and physical education curriculum aligned with DODEA standards, Bullion said. New instructional materials were bought for all grades, she said, with teachers trained either last year or the previous spring.

The focus is on helping students make healthy life choices when it comes to physical activity, nutrition and recreational behavior, Bullion said.

“In the days that many of us went to school, physical education and health were (about) helping students look for ways to increase physical strength and endurance,” she said. “Now the focus is on helping students achieve their personal best, in terms of a healthy body and mind” and giving students knowledge to prevent disease, injuries, and substance and alcohol abuse.

In the past several years, Bullion said, Pacific schools have added technological devices into classrooms to support DODEA health and physical education standards. These include age-appropriate heart monitors and computer software that students and teachers can use to track individual physical fitness progress.

This year the schools have added to and upgraded materials, Bullion said.

The healthful lessons are to start young: The schools this year are adopting an early childhood curriculum called “Sports Play and Active Recreation” (or “SPARK”) for pre-kindergarten and Sure Start students — children ages 3 to 5, generally, Bullion said.

“We think it’s important for young children to start practicing developmentally appropriate movements and to understand how food and other substances affect their bodies,” she said.

DODEA sometime this year also expects to implement a new health and wellness policy that will require its districts to set local policies on wellness aimed at capturing existing initiatives and meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements, according to DODDS-Pacific/DDESS-Guam spokesman Charles Steitz.

Bullion said she doesn’t know yet what specifics will be spelled out in the new DODEA policy.

“I’m hoping the DODEA policy will look at not only the health and wellness of students but also staff as a way of modeling healthy lifestyle practices for students,” she said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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