Bill ?urges' physical activity in area schools

By Greg Gelpi

Academics aren't just about sitting in a classroom, state legislation suggests. Physical activity aids the learning process.

A resolution that "urges" schools to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into the school day passed the Georgia Senate 52-0. An identical resolution passed the House Education Committee and is expected to pass the full House.

State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, who sponsored the House resolution, said the legislation serves two functions: fighting childhood obesity and problems associated with childhood obesity and improving academic performance.

"I know reports that bear out we have a higher percentage of childhood obesity," Buckner, who also works as a health educator, said.

She also said that research shows that physical activity positively impacts academics.

Kathy Britt, the principal of Mount Zion Elementary School, said there is only so much time in a school day and that time must be used for academics first.

"Our teachers sometimes take their classes outside for recess on days they don't have (physical education) and if time permits," Britt said. "The curriculum is full; time is fairly short; and we are held accountable for our students' achievement. Perhaps the legislators shouldn't mandate our schedules if they are not willing to be held accountable for the progress of our students."

George Johnson, a PE teacher at Riverdale Middle School, said PE has become too academic in recent years.

"Maybe we're focusing so hard on the academics that we're forgetting the other half of the person," Johnson said. "What you wind up with is kids not really involved in physical activity."

He said PE has become a class to learn the rules of sports, rather a class to participate in them.

"I would say the most important thing you can do is to get these kids into a habit of physical activity," Johnson, who has been involved in Clayton County education since 1975, said. "I don't know if you're aware of the academic stress children are under with No Child Left Behind."

The legislation references a 2001 recommendation by the U.S. Surgeon General that children from kindergarten through 12th grade should have 30 minutes of physical activity each day. It also states that the American Heart Association recommends this along with 30 minutes of "vigorous" physical activity at least three or four times a week.

"National studies have reported an increase in physical activity to three to five days per week translates into 20 percent improvement in physical fitness, 15 to 20 percent improvement in self-esteem, 20 percent improvement in school attendance, 20 percent improvement in school grades, 50 percent reduction in smoking and 60 percent reduction in drug and alcohol use," according to the resolutions.

Buckner, who anticipates the resolution passing the House, said the 30 minutes don't have to be in the form of a PE class and don't have to come all at once. She said the time can be taken a few minutes at a time, whether it be running in place for a break during a class or running around the school once before lunch.