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Fitness Bill Pushes Students to Shape Up

A bill recently signed by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist aims to beef up the physical education requirements for elementary and middle schools.

The Don Davis Physical Education Act seeks to clarify the intent of a bill passed last year and requires all elementary schools to provide 150 minutes of exercise each week beginning in fall 2008 and all middle schools to offer daily physical education classes beginning in fall 2009.

Under last year's bill, which mandated 150 minutes of exercise a week but did not give guidelines on how to meet the requirement, schools were counting such activities as 10 minutes of morning fitness television programs and walking to and from lunch, combined with regular gym, to comply.

"The intent was quality phys ed, and 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day," says Don Knitt, phys ed curriculum coordinator for Polk County Schools and president of the Florida Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport (FAHPERDS).

The 150-minute weekly requirement still stands, but must be met in at least 30-minute periods that take the form of phys ed class, supervised recess, and/or any other in-class or out-of-class physical activities reviewed by a certified phys ed instructor.

Among the measures taken to comply, some suspect educators will send entire grade levels to phys ed at a time, bringing up issues surrounding safety, standards-based curriculum, and effective student assessments. Professional development and guidance opportunities from the Florida DOE and FAHPERDS will help schools and teachers address issues created by the mandate and develop new methods to combine physical activities with academic learning.

Experts agree that as No Child Left Behind squeezes out noncore subjects, districts struggle with funds, and expensive interscholastic sports are accessed only by wealthy students in middle-class and upper-class areas, Florida's legislation-as well as similar plans in states such as Arkansas, Oregon and Texas-although not perfect, is a step in the right direction toward combating childhood obesity and diabetes.

"The challenge is huge, but states and organizations are moving to brainstorm and get something going," says Donna Lopiano, president of school consulting firm Sports Management Resources.

Pumping Up Your Physical Activity Plan

Want to implement a comprehensive physical activity program fully integrated with your physical education program but lack the resources to initiate it? A great informational starting point is the new position statement from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), "Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs."

The policy brief defines the importance of comprehensive school physical activity programs and is designed to inform and guide administrators and employees in providing school-based physical activity opportunities and employee wellness programs. It is available for download at


Taking the Stink Out of Dissection

Mandates in 14 states allowing biology students to opt out of dissection without jeoparding their grades are fueling increased interest in virtual dissection as a tool to teach anatomy.

With the formaldehyde-soaked animals costing between $5 and $25 each, squeamish students as well as districts can feel the cost. Computer program shelp to lessen schools' financial burden without curtailing the academic rewards.

One program, Digital Frog, lets students use a digital scalpel to make cuts on a full-screen image, and animations allow the student to see how the body works,from blood pumping through the heart to moving joints. Unlike a real dissection, mistakes can easily be corrected and the steps repeated.

Other digital dissection programs, such as Drylab Dissections and Catworks, exist for commonly used dissection specimens-such as rats, earthworms, fetal pigs, and even cats-and can be purchased for less than $1,500 from numerous companies. And groups such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have brokered deals with school systems at prices even in the $500 range.