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D.C. Public Schools began the new school year with more than 450 new teachers and dozens of new principals. Nearly 90,000 new textbooks have arrived, and a lot of talk is expected in the year ahead about students' scores in reading and math. But improving test scores isn't the only thing DCPS is focusing on. This year, they're also trying to improve the way they teach physical education.
The most basic change has to do with the types of games children play.
"Physical education of the past would involve elimination games, dodge ball, human target games and unless you're a person on the other end of the ball who's very successful in dodging and getting other people out, it's not really a game for anybody else," says Heather Holliday, who's in charge of physical education for DCPS. "And those games exclude the kids that really the class is for: overweight and obese."
So instead of dodgeball, for example, students are asked to compete against themselves. Each child has an individualized plan and goals. For instance, in running, they're trying to beat their previous scores. Students also have individual heart monitors or pedometers so they can track how they are doing.
Schools will still offer sports, such as volleyball and basketball, but teachers may modify games. So, for example, on a volleyball court teachers may use half the number of players so students are forced to move around a lot more.
Physical activity not only affects the body, but also how children do in school.
"Studies have shown obese children have less academic performance," says Dr. Yolandra Hancock. "Some researchers believe there's something in the system physiologically itself that's affecting the child's ability to learn."
DCPS is also focusing on nutrition education in health classes. Students now have to learn how to create a meal plan for themselves and their families. As Holliday points out, they learn how to advocate in their families for healthier choices, such as low-fat milk. Some schools also have a family activity night where they teach families how to cook a nutritious meal or exercise together.
"We teach skills like reading a food label, we teach refusal skills, we practice these things in class," says Holliday. "We can't just say these are the five steps in the decision making process and send you out into the world and expect you to be successful."
[Music: "Physical (Karaoke Version)" by Glee Cast from Physical (Karaoke Version) - Single]