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Due in part to the fact that our junior high test scores have been low compared to the rest of the state, Laramie County School District 1 has introduced a survey on its website that asks for input on middle-level courses.

When viewing the survey, the reader is asked to give their opinion on elective courses that are offered in the junior high.

First, the survey does not reveal that physical education is now required and in jeopardy of becoming an elective under the new schedule change and possible change to a middle-level philosophy.

Second, the reader does not know that currently health and P.E., along with being required and offered together, have been separated out.

Third, the title of the survey leads readers to think that we are moving to a middle-level philosophy, which may not be entirely true.

Quantified research shows the benefits of daily physical education and health are directly correlated to academic success and brain growth. Why would we make physical education and health an elective when research demonstrates the profound benefits, and we are a nation facing increased rates of childhood obesity and diabetes, a national opioid epidemic and the ever-increasing rates of vaping and smoking in our youth?

The Association for Middle Level Education recommends daily physical education, and encourages schools following their model, not to decrease the time students are exposed to physical activity. The fact that most middle-level or junior high schools in our state require and support physical education and health should encourage us to do the same.

The Association of Middle Level Education also encourages the social-emotional growth of the middle-level student. Middle-level students need ways to discuss the social-emotional aspects of their lives and develop healthy methodologies that help them deal with their peers and outside pressures of drugs, alcohol, sexual issues, suicide and school violence, to name a few. According to the survey, health (currently taken in conjunction with physical education) looks to be separated away from physical education and become a standalone elective.

The LCSD1 Board of Trustees has voted to move from the block schedule to a standard schedule, with four core classes, an advisory period and two electives. As it stands, they have provided three alternative schedules at various parent advisory meetings.

One is to have the choice of two electives, meaning the removal of physical education and health as required subjects. Second is to keep physical education as a required course and have only one additional elective. And the third is to have a hybrid schedule with the core classes and advisory period and having the electives on an A/B schedule. This could allow for physical education and health to be kept as a required course and have three additional electives, which seems to be the best alternative the district has offered.

Another choice that could be considered is to remove the advisory period, continue to keep physical education and health as required subjects and have time in the schedule for two additional electives. The reason for removing the advisory period is because it is thought by many to be a misuse of time. With no set curriculum or objectives, this period seemingly becomes a time when students are on their phones or teachers are left to find ways to “fill” the time by showing videos, prompting students to do homework or some other time filler. Several other districts in our state do not have an advisory period for those very reasons.

More questions should be asked before we move to a middle-level concept in our district and possibly eliminate physical education as a required course. As indicated by the administration, if we are changing our philosophy from the junior high model of teaching to the middle-level philosophy of teaching, then shouldn’t our teachers be trained before we make such a comprehensive change? Only Johnson Junior High has had a significant number of its teachers trained, while Carey and McCormick have had minimal training for their teachers.

If we simply add more time to the day and to our core subjects and expect higher test score results, but continue to do what we have always done, will we, indeed, see change? Is it time that maybe we look inward at what we have been doing and make serious assessments as to why our students are not achieving, and then decide if simply changing the schedule, which could include reducing physical education, is the answer?

Please make your voice heard by filling out the LCSD1 survey (online at https://tinyurl.com/lcsd1middlelevelsurvey) by Tuesday’s deadline and letting your opinion be known.

Jim Gardner is a retired elementary physical education teacher From LCSD1 of 34 years, and is currently the Laramie County Community College women’s soccer coach.

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