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P.E. at Bennet Brings Own Challenges

With a field two blocks away, and many not-so-eager participants, physical education teachers at Bennet Middle School have to be both cautious and creative, as they try to build strong bodies and social skills. Included: Tips for physical education activities.

Like many aspects of life at Bennet Middle School, physical education classes require both caution and creativity.

While the campus has several gyms, the school's sole athletic field is two blocks and two busy streets away. Students are chaperoned over to the field. "We finally got a 'No Turn On Red' sign," said physical education teacher Christine Connelly, who has taught at Bennet for 31 years, about one of the intersections. "Just try crossing 95 kids. This just eats up time."

In 2004-2005 at least, students had three days of gym consecutively and then three days of music during the school's six-day cycle. "That makes it easier for planning activities," Ms. Connelly says. "This way, we can see some progress."


During this class, seventh graders were running a timed mile. "This is part of the state's physical education test," says Ms. Connelly. "Although it is not required for seventh graders, we like to make note of times."

The goal is for students to run the mile in fewer than 15 minutes. They can walk, run, or jog. Anyone who takes longer than 15 minutes to complete the course has to do it again another day. The state guidelines for youngsters this age call for boys to complete the mile in 8.5 minutes and girls in ten minutes.

For most students, that mark is unattainable, according to Ms. Connelly. "Many are inactive and overweight. But we are just looking for improvement."

Students have been practicing running a half-mile several times a week in preparation for being timed. But like a lot of urban teens, many Bennet students have little desire and few opportunities to participate in sustained, strenuous exercise. "We do battle a lot," Ms. Connelly notes. "Many love to jump rope, but they avoid running. A lot say they think they have asthma or their asthma is acting up, when in fact, it is normal hard breathing. They are not used to it."

At the same time, she does see some natural athletes.

Teachers also offer activities that require more cooperation, to help students build social skills. Staff members realized that youngsters did not have experience organizing games on their own, which many people take for granted. "Sometimes we just put out equipment, for kickball, soccer, double-dutch, or other activities, and let them pick from three activities," Ms. Connelly says. "We were telling them to pick teams and play. But then we realized they didn't know how to do that. We had to show them how to set up teams and play."


Students start their run about half a mile away from the field, at a point on the town's bicycle path. Another teacher is supervising the route. Once students reach the field, where Ms. Connelly is waiting, they must run two laps around the field to equal a mile.

Because Bennet is a Title I school, students can't be required to change clothes for physical education classes. But they must wear sneakers and must shed most jewelry for class. Many run in heavy jeans

A few groan when they reach Ms. Connelly, and are told they need to do two laps around the field. As students start coming in, one girl says, "I might faint. I didn't have breakfast."

Another says, "My asthma is kicking in."

After finishing their laps, students gather in clusters, comparing times.

With ten minutes to go before the class has to trek back to the gym, almost everyone has completed the mile in fewer than 15 minutes.

For some, it is a small chance to shine. Two boys who have had problems in classes come in under eight minutes, and Ms. Connelly says admiringly, "You should join the cross-country team."

Take a virtual tour of Bennet Middle School

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

(Editor's Note: All students' names have been changed) 

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 11/11/2004; updated 01/30/2006