From “Gym” Class to Physical Education

For decades, it became associated with a school subject looked at with pity and derision. Instead of hard work and self-empowerment, it was the class to skip, the one less important than “academic” subjects.

Unfortunately, there was some reason to look down on PE for a while. Across the country, many departments and classes had devolved into a rotating door of loosely run games, low requirements, and little to no hard work.

(Which, it is important to note, was not primarily the fault of hard-working teachers, but rather a continual downslide of lowering expectations for our students. Asking kids to “sweat”, work hard, and possibly show weakness became almost evil for a while.)

Don’t get us wrong, “Games” are a vital part of a complete Wellness education. Swinging, running, throwing, catching, these are all fundamental lessons to learn. BUT, they cannot be the sum total of such an education.

Thankfully, there has been a resurgence within fitness education.

This country is realizing it has a problem. One, in fact, that stems from a lack of importance placed on hard work, self-image, and physical/mental wellness. Luckily, our problems are not insurmountable. We can change the landscape if we start with our youth.

The teachers at Hightstown High School in New Jersey were one such forward thinking group. For years, fitness had been relegated to occasional Friday sessions, and the bulk of class was spent on “games”. Teachers and kids alike were bored, and not seeing desired results.

Jeff Drake, PE Teacher at Hightstown, and his industrious team of teachers, set out to change the game (no pun intended) at their school.

But How?

Step 1: Making it EDUCATION

To do so, the teachers at Hightstown started by building a foundation of progression and organization. Much like is done in any other high school subject, Drake and his colleagues created a step-by-step curriculum for human fitness & performance that each student would traverse over the course of their career.

First, all students would be educated in proper biomechanical movement patterns, focusing on the foundational human movements in PLT4M’s FIT101: Intro to Fitness Program. Then, they would progress into the world of training through the addition of intensity and external objects/loads like med balls, PVC pipes, and jump ropes, and finally a complete education of true resistance training. By the end of Junior Wellness, students would have had a complete education on movement, intensity, and a host of weight training essentials.

Starting in the 11th grade, Hightstown offers a Strength and Conditioning Elective, where students – armed with a complete education on all things fitness – are free to pursue their own personal goals.

Athletes participate in In-Season or Off-Season programs based on their competitive schedule.

Students not participating in Athletics, but looking to continue their fitness lifestyle have the ability to choose from PLT4M’s Personal Fitness or Personal Weight Training programs.

Everyone, now, was covered with appropriate programming and progression.

Step 2: Treating it like any other Subject

The key, at Hightstown, was to truly embrace the traditional educational model. Beyond a curriculum, they needed a grading system.

Before, “grading” had amounted to nothing more than rote memorization and things like defining the weight equipment – “What is the bench?”

Now, though, grading could be structured and consistent across the board.

Drake and his colleagues use Tiered “Student Growth Objectives” tied to actual fitness data and participation. Each semester (4 months of classes), every student can fall into one of a few different “Tiers” based on their background. For example, Tier 1:

      • 1 or less absence
      • Reading Level: Read at 10th or higher
      • Combined Bench/Squat Max of 300+

Each tier, then, has different target percentage increases to measure student growth over the course of the semester.

Physical education, then, became a subject like any other, complete with progressional curriculum and structured grading and expectations.

What Matters Most

In the end, the efforts of the Hightstown PE department proved to be WELL worth it – the results were both immediate, and impressive.

Take one Hightstown student’s experience, for example. Not only did the student see a 10% increase across his fitness metrics, he lost 20lbs in just 4 months and became a fitness fanatic!

“I had so much fun with it that I went right to the gym after school if I didn’t finish my workout in class!”

When push comes to shove, the obvious enthusiasm this student now shows for self-improvement and physical wellness is our primary objective as PE teachers. Test results, attendance marks, and any metrics aside – inspiring our students is the goal.

Frankly, empowering students to take charge of their physical and mental wellness for life could very well be the single greatest lesson anyone could ever impart.

Kudos to you, Hightstown PE!