"After reading more about our U.S. population growing larger and doing less physical activity, our faculty decided to bring back run, walk, and jog," physical education teacher George Musser told Education World. "Four years ago Gaffney Lane Elementary students 'ran' the perimeter of the continental United States. That was a 13,500-mile effort accomplished by about 550 students. This year's Run the Capitals project will require our 730 students and faculty to run, walk, and jog more than 16,000 miles."
Musser uses mileage cards, reward certificates, and token rewards to boost student interest in the program. They can build mileage independently, during phys ed class, and as a group with their teachers. In good weather, participants gather their miles on a 1/2-mile trail around the school playground and on a 1/8-mile perimeter of blacktop. As the weather grows colder, activity continues in the gym.
"On Fridays, we represent weekly jumps on a map; those jumps are equal to the mileage turned in during the week," said Musser. "So far we have traveled 4,622 miles and visited 15 capital cities. Our best prediction brings us down the east coast in February and back home to Oregon City, Oregon, by May."
Run the Capitals is a school-wide project that has spawned some healthy competition among grade levels. In some instances, classes take "buddy walks," in which upper grade students take lower grade students for walking or jogging activities. The success of Musser's newest project is especially significant because ten years ago budget cuts in his district had virtually eliminated physical education at the elementary level. In order to support his position, classes in the school are larger by about two students each.
"The reintroduction of physical education taught by a specialist has positively impacted Gaffney Lane Elementary in several ways," Musser explained. "Physical education is given the attention it deserves. The scope and range of activities has been expanded far beyond what classroom teachers have time to do. We also have a common set of rules for all playground games; rules that are introduced, practiced, and troubleshot through one person."
Musser also operates a "noon league" program, during which students play flag football, soccer, volleyball, and basketball in teams during their 30-minute lunch recess. The organized sports activities teach life skills and help students learn to play more cooperatively with students at a wide range of abilities. The playground is crowded with students, so noon leagues spread the students out for safer, less stressed interaction.
"Elementary physical education is so much more than sports and games," said Musser. "Not having it is like an elementary school without kindergarten. So many basics begin in phys ed class. Children need movement that is both developmentally appropriate and sequenced. It is so hard to do justice to the physical education needs of children as a classroom teacher. The physical education program knits our elementary school together."
Article by Cara Bafile
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