Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When Physical Education is Brilliant

I get a number of newsletters on education and a recent one from GreatSchools had a discussion about whether PE is necessary. This is interesting in that most of us struggled ourselves in school with dull gym classes at one time or another, but I think the answer is YES, YES, YES and YES again.

The logic might go something like this: All kids (assuming physically able) need regular physical exercise; physical education is the most proven means to provide physical exercise to students; therefore students should have physical education. Not a perfect syllogism, but perhaps good enough for this discussion.

Of course not all physical education programs are equal. And from my parent/observer's standpoint, in education when you find something that works, it makes a lot of sense to copy it if you can.

I didn't have to look very far for an example of one PE program that I believe is brilliant and I thought I would call it to your attention. At Lundahl Middle School in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the physical education department offers something called the 24 Hour Run. As part of the PE program, students of all shapes and sizes work up to a mile run and once a week they are asked to run a mile. Lundahl has a paved quarter mile track on the grounds--it is nothing fancy, just an oval track that has been paved so the kids have a place that works during the warm months.

Lundahl like many middle schools is committed to having students who are fit and in some ways the one mile run demonstrates the school's commitment to that, but Fred Kaiser (shown above) takes the school's commitment and asks a greater commitment of the kids--and they deliver.

Kaiser manages Lundahl's 24 Hour Challenge Run in which roughly 40% of the students volunteer to run in relay teams of twelve a mile at a time for an entire 24 hour period. During this 24 hour period, the grounds of the school turn into a tent city that is home of hundreds of super enthusiastic kids and a small army of adult volunteers.

The run is a culminating event in that kids have to sign on to the program principles, train for months, and they must keep logs that demonstrate their consistent efforts. A strict regimen has to be followed. One slip up and your are out and few want to leave the program. Each student will cover between 12-50 miles. With students, teachers, parents and local business sponsors involved, the run is a community event. From kids in the science club to the basketball team, a student can grow exponentially in self respect, confidence and maturity.

Kaiser emphasizes the fact that when students make the 24 hour run, they have learned to make a difficult commitment, they have set goals for themselves, they have worked diligently towards achieving those goals and they have succeeded. For almost all the kids who sign on, the success of this achievement is memorable. We all know that once you achieve one thing, you can parlay it to other things in life that you may want to take on.

In both a symbolic and very real gesture, as the clock winds down to the final minute, the students jog one lap as one team -- all the kids as one rag tag bunch of hot sweaty students. While every effort is made to keep the kids hydrated and nourished, you can see the gas is just about on empty as they make their way to the finish line. The 2010 run was a particularly hot one.

Kaiser stands on a truck bed so he can peer over his students. He gives them one final pep talk--essentially reiterating four characteristics of success that he has lectured his students about all year. Kaiser says they had the willingness to risk when they took on the challenge, they were determined to stand for what they believed, they had a commitment to integrity, and they maintained a sense of passion during the entire effort.

You can see the camaraderie on the faces of the kids. The kids know that everyone in the group made it themselves-- mom and dad didn't carry them around the track and no technology gave them a boost or a virtual victory. It was 100% blood sweat and tears.

Kaiser has many great ideas on how to make Physical Education brilliant. He is somewhat of a PE guru and the Middle School father of the 24 Hour Run Challenge that was originally conceived of as a high school event. Not all schools have the right environment for such an event, but it is spreading to other schools. Kaiser was named Teacher of the Year in 2008 by the National Association of Physical Sport and Education. See Fred's web page for contact information.

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