At a time when reports claim that Chicago Public schools are
minimizing physical education opportunities and omitting recess
altogether, other local education institutions are placing their
focus on physical as well as academic learning.
With organizations like the American Heart Association stressing
the need for more physical education in schools and a recent study
by the National Academy of Sciences that finds that physical
activity promotes neuron growth, educators are finding that
physical fitness is essential to their curriculums.
Beyond the basics
Educators across the board find that students thoroughly enjoy
and look forward to the time they spend in Physical Education
classes. At Chicago
Jewish Day School, kids love spending time on the school's Lake
Michigan beach property during their twice daily recess.
In addition, a recent partnership with the Chicago Park District
allows kids to get outside and enjoy park district spaces as well,
all too often a rarity for city schools. Twice weekly physical
education classes are taught by a local youth sports company, and
focus on team sports, individual sports and the importance of a
lifetime fitness regime.
"As a faculty, we really feel the social and emotional is as
important as academic," says school Principal, Judy
Finkelstein-Taff. "It enhances and advances students' academic
School of Chicago, physical education is taken just as
seriously. All grade levels meet six out of eight days at the
school, which operates on an eight-day cycle. During the fifty
minute class, students partake in a blend of cardio and muscular
training as well as team and individual sports. "Overall, it
definitely helps with stress and anxiety and is a release," says
Dan Houlihan, director of fitness and wellness at the school.
"It is good for them to have this time after so much time
sitting in class and studying." Houlihan stresses that one of his
department's goals is to get kids to realize that you don't have to
be morbidly obese to be unhealthy. "Inactivity leads to other
problems down the line," says Houlihan. "We are trying to get that
understanding within them as soon as possible so that they create
habits to last throughout their lifetime."
Going the extra mile
Extracurricular activities are also offered at themany schools,
as further incentive for students and staff to do what's necessary
to stay healthy. At Chicago Jewish Day School, children participate
in activities like yoga, multi sports, dance and drama.
At Latin School, students have access to the school's fitness
center for a few hours each day. Additional activities offered by
the school include an intense dance program, ultimate Frisbee, flag
football and a month-long Iron Man competition. Teachers are even
encouraged to participate in daily fitness classes, sometimes with
students, and have access to nutrition speakers and personal
trainers. "Students really do like it, because they see their
teacher doing it, so they're motivated to do it, too," says
Houlihan. "There's a healthy competition."
Sometimes, it's sensible to go beyond school property and search
for outside providers of physical activity. One such organization,
The Little Gym
in Evergreen Park, makes getting physical a breeze.
"With the lack of funding for schools, we are a resource for
kids to make fitness fun and make it a habit," says gym director,
Darius Parker. "Students with highly developed motor skills will
demonstrate a better level of school readiness." Over four hundred
kids hit The Little Gym's mat each week for gymnastics and tumbling
classes for children ages four months to twelve years.
Kids enjoy all aspects of The Little Gym, from classes that
allow parental involvement to the sense of teamwork instructors
instill. "I believe children thrive in this type of environment,"
says Parker. On top of the obvious physical benefits of exercise,
The Little Gym aims to make great lifelong esteem-building habits
for students. "We gauge our success in terms of the self confidence
that is gained as a result of the skills they learn."
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