Nov. 3, 2011Vol. 42, Issue 2

A Physical Education Makeover

First photo: Cathrine Himberg, Kinesiology, is encouraging The Children’s Storefront students to move during recess while she works with the second-grade teaching assistant on a grant proposal for the cafeteria. CSU, Chico alumna Natalie Page is sitting on the stoop above them, observing and making her decision to take a leave from Yuba City high school to help with the project in the spring. Second photo: A revamped PE class that encourages students to move, to learn, and to have fun. Third photo: Professional golfer Annika Sorenstam teaching golf to students at The Children’s Storefront. Fourth photo: John Roussell, Communication Design, with Annika Sorenstam in one of his few moments in front of the camera. The students at The Children’s Storefront school in East Harlem received a private lesson from the professional golfer—and a comprehensive school wellness makeover, including a revamping of their physical education—thanks to Cathrine Himberg, Kinesiology. John Roussell, Communication Design, is creating a documentary of the project. They picked the 200-student school as the ideal case study for implementing a transformed PE class and physical activity throughout the school day.

In a January 2011 needs assessment, Himberg found the K–8 Children’s Storefront lacking just about everything an effective PE program requires: The classes featured dodgeball and other games Himberg characterizes as “roll out the ball” (in which teachers observe students playing a game and provide little or no instruction). Facilities consisted of the sidewalk and blocked-off street with parked cars, a small common room, or a rented room in a church a 10-minute walk from the school. Physical activity was not a part of the school day outside of PE. And while the cafeteria’s food was really good, thanks to a 2005 kitchen makeover from Emeril Lagasse and the Food Network, it needed a little tweaking to be really healthy, says Himberg.

The school is absolutely committed to the physical education “makeover,” says Himberg. The head of school and the teachers are committed, she says, and the school’s board agreed to hire a qualified PE teacher who started in August. But the research- and standards-based program goes beyond a physical education class.

“We are using physical education as the hub for incorporating health and wellness concepts into these kids’ lives,” says Himberg, adding that ways to take care of yourself, to eat well, to love physical activity are woven into the fiber of the school day. Teachers at the school are developing ways for the kids to move every 20 minutes in the classrooms. For example, in the middle of math class, the children get out of their seats and dance the “Brain Boostin’ Boogie,” and get back to work with renewed focus. The cafeteria staff is using whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables in every meal. The children are moving more during recess because they have new equipment to play with.

children at the school in physical educationHimberg contacted SPARK, a national leader in research- and standards-based physical education curriculum and wellness programs, about the project. “They loved the idea of using a small school to really show the results and that we were doing a documentary that could attract national attention,” she says. SPARK therefore donated training, curriculum, and equipment. The Annika Foundation, The First Tee (U.S. Golf Association), Human Kinetics Publishing, and Action Based Learning Labs also got involved, donating resources, curriculum, and training. The donations from these organizations total over $100,000. The program is also funded by the Center for Advancement of Standards-Based Physical Education Reform (CASPER), which will use it as a model for schools “adopted” by that organization in the future.

In mid-August, Himberg and Roussell began a semester-long sabbatical and flew to New York for two months to begin The Children’s Storefront project in earnest. They are researching the effects of implementing a physical activity program organized by Himberg over a full school year. Their qualitative results will be gathered in the form of video footage for a documentary filmed and produced by Roussell—a unique collaboration across disciplines. “I am the storyteller,” he says, “and she is the person with the story.”

Roussell has unique access to the story beyond school grounds, bringing his camera into the students’ homes and talking with their parents, interviewing experts across the nation. He and Himberg visited four schools in Charleston, South Carolina, that implemented similar programs that get kids moving every 20 minutes, in every class. The principals of those schools speak on camera about the dramatic improvements they have seen in student achievement and behavior.

Natalie Page with children at the schoolRoussell has done previous work at The Children’s Storefront school with his Seeds of Support project in 2008. Students in the Instructional Design and Technology Program at Chico State participated in a semester-long online mentoring project with eighth-grade students, helping them master techniques in web design.

The educational benefits of the current project will go beyond The Children’s Storefront. CSU, Chico physical education and teacher education graduate Natalie Page has taken a semester off work as Yuba City High School’s PE teacher to live in New York and help implement The Children’s Storefront project and an after-school program for students and parents. Himberg’s spring 2012 students will correspond with Page and PE teacher Helen Primrose, helping develop lesson plans and curriculum. “They will be working on real-world solutions and learning how to harness technology to connect with others,” she says. Roussell’s students in graphic design and visual aesthetics will benefit from real-world, in-progress examples of concepts as he brings raw and edited footage into class for analysis.

photo of John Roussell and Natalie Page“There is no way we could have done it without release time from the University for both of us at the same time,” says Himberg.

“The support of the University made this possible,” adds Roussell. “We are so grateful.”

The couple returned to Chico in October and will visit the school three more times—in January, March, and April 2012. Shooting will conclude at The Children’s Storefront fundraising gala in April, where the students will perform a dance medley of waltz, swing, and merengue choreographed by Himberg and Page. “You should see these kids dance,” she laughs. “They are fantastic, and they love it!”

The documentary, titled No Excuses!, is scheduled to premiere in Chico in fall 2012 and will be screened at the NASPE convention in 2013. Trailers will be available on CASPER’s Support Real Teachers website starting in the spring. They hope the movie will inspire changes in schools across the country.

“I believe the story will tell itself,” says Roussell. “You have these beautiful kids in a compelling setting, showing the stark contrast of realities in New York City.”

Adds Himberg: “If you can implement quality physical education and comprehensive school wellness there, you can do it anywhere. No excuses!”

—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications

More information on The Children’s Storefront school project, including updates and video clips, will be available on CASPER’s website, or find them on Facebook.