Ukiah Unified School District

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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: Elementary School Physical Education

Elementary school physical education programs have changed significantly over the years. When I began teaching, classroom teachers had to plan and deliver the P.E. curriculum to their students. Later, instructional aides were hired to conduct P.E. as a means of providing prep time for teachers. These paraprofessionals (often referred to as “paras”) were wonderful; they created activities to help students build new skills and improve physical health. However, most of the paras had little or no time to prepare for classes and they received minimal training.

Five years ago, when our funding formula changed and the district and community faced the task of building a well-rounded strategic plan, we discussed the issue of elementary physical education. The UUSD Board decided to fund one P.E. teacher for every two elementary schools. Then, three years ago, we created three more positions, giving each elementary school its own P.E. teacher. The elementary principals believe that the addition of a P.E. teacher at each site has made a huge difference.

All of the elementary P.E. teachers plan and organize the daily P.E. activities that the paraprofessionals deliver. The teachers work alongside the paras and support them by helping with discipline and modeling new activities. They also teach the classes when paras are absent, and often do one-on-one activities with students with special needs or who need a little extra attention. Principals also say the P.E. teachers have contributed to improving staff morale and building a positive school culture. Classroom teachers appreciate the communication regarding P.E. activities and student discipline issues. They are aware that healthy bodies prepare students for classroom vigor, and report that overall student behavior has improved. Not only are students learning new physical skills, they are also practicing team-building and good sportsmanship.

Elementary P.E. teachers meet monthly with middle school P.E. teachers. They collaborate to make sure the standards-based curriculum they use, “Spark,” will equip students with the necessary skills for the middle school P.E. programs. They also plan events (like the district-wide elementary track meet) and work on physical fitness testing standards to ensure consistency across schools.

As I interviewed each elementary P. E. teacher and talked to all the elementary principals, I realized that while they are striving for consistency, each P.E. teacher brings their own interests to their job, making each school unique. The following are some highlights for each school.

At Calpella, Chase Gordon helps with PBIS (the school behavior intervention system), including checking in a couple times a day with students who need structured monitoring. He rewards students who make progress with one-on-one time that includes a fun game or activity.

At Grace Hudson, Bret Morton publishes a monthly newsletter, Gymnewsium, that outlines what is going on with fitness for the month. He also puts together intramural sports for noon-time, and plays music at noon to get students moving.

At Frank Zeek, John Pinon communicates with parents about P.E. classes and posts pictures through a private online site called class dojo. Teachers say he has brought consistency and structure to the program.

At Oak Manor, Jessica Monlux obtained a grant that provides the school with prizes for the school’s jogging program. Ms. Monlux focuses on how students become good learners in P.E. She sends home emails when students are honored for being good learners, detailing exactly why the student achieved the award.

At Nokomis, Alex VanPatten implemented a run/walk program that allows students to chart their progress on a U.S. map showing their route across the states. They keep track of individual and classroom miles, and prizes are awarded for various achievement levels.

At Yokayo, Ellie Morton teaches stretching and balance through yoga, which also stresses silence and stillness. She has instituted a mileage club with prizes, and she plays music while students jog to help motivate them.

The elementary P.E. teachers have definitely made a difference in the physical education program, but just as importantly, they have improved safety on campuses and they represent another safe adult who is there daily to connect with every student. This program is a great example of certificated personnel working with classified employees to deliver quality education to UUSD students.