Delaware News

District works to keep kids moving

Gym classes, other options teach students why exercising is important

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LORRIE CECIL/THISWEEKNEWS
Taylor Deaner, a third-grader at Schultz Elementary School, catches a ball in a Frisbee during gym class Wednesday, Aug. 28. Delaware schools give students several options for staying fit and active.
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Elementary school students are learning more than how to get their heart rate up during their physical education classes.

Some teachers, parents and faculty in the Delaware City School District have been expressing a growing concern with obesity trends in the nation.

Parent Jayna McDaniel-Browning said she hoped to get more "movement" in the school day for elementary school students.

"Childhood obesity is a huge concern of mine, and I believe the children need to have more activity in their school day," said McDaniel-Browning, who's one of three candidates on the November ballot for three Delaware school board seats.

Sally Rathje, director of food service, said she has noticed a trend in unhealthy eating patterns as well as a resistance to healthy foods from her students.

"The culture needs to change if we're going to affect the obesity trend," she said.

However, Kathy Horner, physical education instructor at Schultz and Carlisle elementary schools, said she hasn't noticed a decrease in her students' desire for physical activity in the past 20 years.

"Students are coming with an enthusiasm and they want to be active," Horner said. "I'm not sure they're enthusiastic about exercise in general, but when they come to my class, they are excited."

Students in grades 1-4 take physical education one day a week for 40 minutes. New this year, kindergartners take physical education one day every two weeks for 40 minutes.

Students also have 30 minutes of recess every day, which may or may not include physical activity. Horner said it's the students' time to decide what they would like to do.

Horner said the 40 minutes she has with students isn't strictly focused on physical activity, but on trying to improve social skills by team building, communication, cooperation and sharing.

"I focus on the culture within the class. I want them to communicate and learn how to accept students as partners instead of just playing with their best friends," she said.

Horner said in addition to getting their heart rates up, students are learning to share and make their fellow classmates feel comfortable and accepted.

"We want to establish a culture of communication, acceptance and respect. It's not just about physical activity," she said.

Horner said she understands 40 minutes once a week is not enough for students, but they need to exercise at least one hour a day.

Schultz has a running club for third- and fourth-grade students once a week, and every Friday during the winter, the school has morning gym before school, when students take part in fitness circuits.

"We have an average of 60 students that come to morning gym and we focus on aerobic activity and flexibility," she said.

"There are other physical-activity options for students, but these are free options. We also want to teach them things they can do anywhere at any time," she said.

Horner said one of the most important things she wants to communicate to students is how good it feels to exercise. It's not just about being healthy, she said.

"Exercise gets your brain ready and your heart pumping. It helps you feel good about yourself and gives you a sense of accomplishment," she said. "I see kids get involved with awful activities that make them feel better, when exercise could do that for them."

Horner said physical activity is important to teach to students, but above all, they want students to understand why it's important.

"We want them to know why they need to exercise," she said. "It's not just important for their health, but for their self-esteem."

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