Is Aspen P.E. all that it can be? |

Is Aspen P.E. all that it can be?

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Physical education at Aspen’s public schools apparently is not all it could or should be.

That’s what members of the Aspen School Board suggested at a recent meeting, in which they wondered if local students are getting enough P.E. time during the course of a week, a semester or even a year.

At least one P.E. teacher said they are not, and the board is planning to hold further meetings on the subject to determine what, if anything, should be done about it.

The school district administration and the school board periodically conduct “monitoring” sessions on different aspects of the curriculum and culture of the local schools, as part of the district’s “Policy Governance” system.

It was during a review of the P.E. curriculum held among the board, administration and teachers that the issue arose.

Board member Fred Peirce questioned whether the district has set its sights high enough in terms of the physical education requirements for students.

“We have to get out of the circle of: We have low expectations because we have low contact time,” he said, referring to the fact elementary and middle school students often get as little as one day per week of P.E. ” if that.

He said the current attitude seems to be a complacent one.

“The question really should be: Are we doing the job we want to do?” Peirce said.

Board member Ernie Fyrwald, noting middle school students get only six weeks of P.E. classes during the course of a year, asked P.E. teacher Jared Thompson, “Does that make sense to you?”

“To me, it’s almost as shocking as learning that somebody from Aspen, Colo., doesn’t ski,” Fyrwald declared.

Thompson, who teaches at the elementary school but was on hand for questions from board members, replied that he, too, thinks the current schedule offers insufficient “contact” with the middle schoolers to develop the necessary skill levels expected from physical education.

At the elementary level, he explained, P.E. is designed to teach kids a variety of skills, and to impart confidence so that the children will remain active in later years, although they are required to be in class only one day out of every six.

“It’s more of an educational class to get them prepared,” he said, “to make a lifetime of fitness” part of their overall worldview.

Athletic director Carol Sams told the board that middle school is the time when “our kids need more physical education,” suggesting the classes should be extended over the entire year rather than over two of the quarters, as is now the case.

“It’s such a tough time for them,” she told the board members, calling P.E. “an outlet for them, so they can expend some of that energy … and really develop basic motor skills.”

Sams also said she recently increased the health and P.E. requirements for high school students, which has been limited to one semester of physical education over a student’s four years in high school.

Superintendent Diana Sirko noted there are national standards for P.E. that call for 240 minutes per week for students in kindergarten through eighth-grade. She said at the Aspen schools, students in those grades get closer to a maximum of 240 minutes per month.

Board members and others pointed out local kids get plenty of exercise, both from extracurricular activities such as soccer clubs, figure skating, hockey and skiing, both cross-country and downhill.

But Thompson argued that P.E. classes should be considered as separate, in a programmatic sense, from outdoor education, experiential education or activities that involve physical activity, because it is the physical education classes that ultimately translate into the development of certain skill sets.

Board member Laura Kornasiewicz said if students need more P.E. time, something might have to give.

“What we willing to give up?” she asked, referring to the busy schedules most students have from middle school through high school, which include packed course loads during school hours and frenetic after-school activities.

Fyrwald called for recommendations from the staffs of the different schools on the matter, to be followed by a discussion among the board members at an upcoming retreat, pointing out that the board must move quickly if it is to come up with suggested policy changes in time to implement them for the 2008-09 school year.

Kornasiewicz, along with acting board president Charla Belinski, recommended the board consider the idea of commingling of the district’s “health and wellness” curriculum with the P.E. requirements, and whether that is beneficial for students.