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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 27, 2008

Elementary class time falls short of state regs
Bertrand and Johnson present GCSD physical education plan, lauded by board

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district here plans to vest its students “with the ability to live an active, healthy, and productive lifestyle” so that they can maintain “life-long wellness,” according to a 140-page report presented to the school board last week.

Wayne Bertrand, director of Health, Physical Education, and Athletics for the district started the presentation with one of his favorite quotes: “Exercise and recreation...are as necessary as reading,” said Thomas Jefferson. “I will rather say more necessary, because health is worth more than learning.”

“Even then, our forefathers recognized the value of exercise,” said Bertrand.

The district’s plan, required by the state, outlines program goals and objectives as well as desired results. Students are to understand fitness and health and to have desire for lifelong participation in activity. They are to be able to set goals and resolve conflicts, to understand consequences of lifestyle choices, and to enjoy movement and express themselves through it.

Students are to be risk-takers and also to be able to “understand a safe environment for activity.” They are to recognize self-improvement and change and to “be proficient in a number of activities.”

“Now, more and more, kids put all their time and energy into one sport,” said Bertrand. “We want to encourage a wide range of activity.”

Assistant Director Regan Johnson went over the curriculum at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. He also covered attendance and grading policies. Elementary students are assessed in skill, knowlege, and citizenship; middle school students earn letter grades and high school students are graded with S for satisfactory, S+, S-, and U for unsatisfactory.

Johnson also went over a lengthy list of district facilities — ranging from gyms and fitness rooms indoors to courts and playing fields outdoors.

“There’s a lot going on,” he concluded.

Concerns and questions

Currently, elementary school students are not meeting for the state-required number of physical education periods.

Students in Guilderland’s five elementary schools have 30-minute sessions three times a week, totaling 90 minutes, while the state requires 120 minutes, The Enterprise was told earlier this year by Susan Tangorre, who was then the assistant superintendent for human resources.

The state counts teachers’ taking their students outside as the fourth session, Tangorre said, but encourages four times a week with certified physical-education teachers. Bertrand said last week that two teachers might need to be added to meet the staffing requirements.

“You give a lot of deference and autonomy to your coaches,” said school board member Colleen O’Connell as she asked about varsity coaches who prohibit their players from participating in off-season sports, which she said can limit their consideration by colleges.

The coaches don’t make such limits to be ogres, said Bertrand. “They’re trying to keep kids fresh and avoid over-use,” he said, adding, “Our coaches have become more cooperative over time.”

At board member Barbara Fraterrigo’s request, Bertrand highlighted some of the “innovative options” for high school students. They can receive Red Cross certification for first-aid training, a program pushed by Fraterrigo; they can learn many different kinds of dance; and they can pursue fitness walking, Bertrand said.

“We do a lot of non-traditional activities,” he said.

“Because this is a public school, can anyone play on any of the teams?” asked board member Denise Eisele.

Some sports, said Bertrand — like cross-country running, Nordic skiing, track, and wrestling — have no-cut policies. Other teams, because of the nature of the sport, he said, have roster limitations.

Board President Richard Weisz asked what the school does if a child doesn’t fit the norms for body mass index, performance, or endurance.

Body mass index is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. In 2006, when Linda Mossop, Guilderland’s food service director, was explaining the district’s new wellness policy to the board, she said, “We noticed a 17 percent increase in BMIs from first grade to sixth grade, which put these students in the unhealthy range of over 25.”

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a BMI of 25 up to 30 indicates a person is overweight; 30 or greater indicates obesity.

“BMI is just a number. We try to educate the kids,” said Johnson, adding that teachers try to be sensitive as some parents are offended.

“How does it work when you need guys bulked up for football?” asked Eisele.

“We may encourage kids to get into the weight room,” said Bertrand. The goal, he said, is to increase strength “instead of sitting in front of the TV to eat...a 24-cut pizza by themselves.”

Weisz concluded the session by commending the department on fielding school teams that consistently win sportsmanship awards and on producing players that maintain high academic averages, which Weisz called “the greatest accolade we could give you.”

“This certainly is not your father’s PE program,” said Superintendent John McGuire. “It certainly is a state-of-the-art program.”

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