By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
“It was time to teach them lifelong activities they could enjoy and carry on when they are older.”
George Velarde has a fitness program that he calls “No Child Left on His/Her Behind.” The Physical Education Department chair of Sierra Vista Junior High School in Santa Clarita wants every student to get up, move around and embrace fitness.
Velarde, a member of the Hart District Teachers Association, believes physical education classes should be fun, like the name of his program poking fun at George Bush’s one-size-fits-all program that punishes schools instead of helping them.
One-third of California schoolchildren are considered overweight, according to recently released results of the state’s Physical Fitness Test, and only a third of children are considered fit enough to complete six physical tests. But at Sierra Vista Junior High, student fitness scores have improved every year, in every category.
The heart and soul of Velarde’s program, which he describes as “new physical education,” is a state-of-the-art fitness center on campus. Located in the school’s gym, the center has cardio equipment, resistance training machines, and the latest in high-tech video exercise equipment, including Dance Dance Revolution. Students exercise to HOPSports, an audio/video group exercise training system, which keeps them exercising at a moderate to vigorous level and has hundreds of activities for students to choose from. The school obtained the equipment from state and federal grants, community fundraising, and philanthropists.
Velarde was a traditional PE teacher until he had an “aha!” moment a decade ago, when he realized PE shouldn’t just be about sports like football, basketball and track. He noticed kids milling around and not participating in PE class because they didn’t think they’d be any good or they found the activity boring.
“The philosophy didn’t seem right,” he says. “Not all kids like sports, and after high school, most kids aren’t going to be playing sports. So why should we be teaching them all these skills centered on games they are not going to be playing? I decided it was time to teach them lifelong activities they could enjoy and carry on when they are older.”
The center is used by all PE classes a few times per week and is also open after school to members of the Boys and Girls Club next door. Students also study for tests while working out. On fitness machines they can watch PowerPoint presentations on an overhanging screen, showing test prep material sent over by their academic teachers. Research shows that brain stimulation is increased during workouts, says Velarde, so students have heightened brainpower. When it comes to their PE grade, students are graded by their individual heart rate numbers.
The PE teacher mixes it up with “Survivor and Game weeks” where students work in teams and do challenging tasks like participants on the reality TV show “Survivor,” and he also has students play traditional sports like basketball, soccer and football “sparingly” throughout the year.
“We’re probably the most popular class on campus,” he says. “The kids are never bored.”
“Sure, we have all the bells and whistles here, but it’s not just about that,” says Velarde. “New PE is about teachers having a positive outlook in class so they can challenge and motivate students. It’s about trying to get kids engaged from the beginning. It’s about creating a lifestyle — not just fulfilling a course requirement.”