Letters to Save P.E. - A Letter from Beth Sibik
Beth Sibik is a physical education/wellness teacher for the Winchendon School District in Massachusetts. She has worked in the district for 21 years. The district has decided to cut the unified arts programs for the fall semester.
This response letter was originally posted on Facebook and has been shared here on the Fit and Fun blog with Beth Sibik's explicit permission.
UPDATE: As of 9/9/20, we have been informed that the Winchendon School District has re-hired PE teachers and that Art/Music teachers will be reporting for school when it begins. Woohoo!
I am Beth Sibik and I have been the Memorial PE teacher for the past 12 years and the Murdock HS wellness teacher for the 12 years prior to that. As PE wellness teachers, we are committed to empowering all children to lead healthy and active lives through effective health and physical education programs; it is a critical component of a student’s well-rounded education. I am here to speak on the importance of PE and health to the children of the Winchendon public schools.
As many of you know, the unified arts programs (PE, art, and music) were all cut from the budget last week. I have taught PE for just under 25 years in Winchendon and I have coached, taught, and formed bonds with many kids. It has been a very hard week for many of us and emotions are running high, but tonight and in the weeks ahead we want to focus on how important the PE, art, and music programs are to our children. One of my duties as a teacher at Memorial for the past 12 years, has been bus duty. It was during that duty that I realized how important the unified arts are to these children, the first words and actions as they exited the bus was for them to come running to one of us teachers and tell us they have our special that day. These kids might not be able to tie their shoes or know how to spell their names quite yet, but they always know their special schedules. They know if they have physical education three days from now or two days from now. They want to know what we will be learning and can’t wait to come to class and see what is set up every day.
Another role we fill as unified art teachers is a check-in and check-out teacher. Throughout the day, we visit an assigned student who might need a little boost to stay on schedule and just be a safe person for them to talk to. We do some social coaching and try to show the student how important they are to our building. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how schools operate and have brought to the forefront the importance of prioritizing the health and well-being of all students. As schools prepare to create a new model for learning in the fall, finding new ways to support students’ physical, mental, and social-emotional health is paramount.
PE is a state law: Chapter 71, Section 3 says that schools must offer physical education and health education as part of a well-rounded education for all students, regardless of whether they will be providing in-school learning, distance learning, or using a hybrid learning approach. The Federal Education Law (ESSA) no longer uses the term “core subject;” it considers all subject areas equal under a well-rounded education. During a global health crisis, developing physically literate and health-literate students is more important than ever. Health literacy is defined by SHAPE America as “the ability to access, understand, appraise, apply and advocate for health information and services in order to maintain or enhance one’s own health and the health of others.” Physical literacy can be defined as, “the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person”. Certified health education and physical education teachers are the best-equipped teachers to deliver this necessary skills-based and standards-based instruction.
As schools work to adjust their models of student learning, it’s important to differentiate between physical education and physical activity, and for school leaders to understand the difference. Physical activity is bodily movement of any type and may include recreational, fitness as well as daily activities such as walking to the store or taking the stairs. Physical education programs offer the best opportunity to provide physical activity to all children and to teach them the skills and knowledge needed to establish and sustain an active lifestyle. A high-quality PE education program, such as ours, teaches the WHOLE child - social, emotional, physical, and mental. It also includes a skills-based health education program, provides learning opportunities, appropriate instruction, and meaningful and challenging content for all students.
Since March, at the Elementary level, we have been teaching online and I would love for you to check out my website, the Memorial School Weebly, to see firsthand all the videos and activities I have done with students to keep them physically educated through this pandemic. It’s important that we all recognize that PE and Health can be taught online. At the secondary level, physical education, now more than ever, has the ability to increase its role in helping kids practice good hygiene and bathroom habits as well as teaching appropriate and effective PPE use and communicable disease prevention. These things are within our professional content area as wellness education teachers. PE at the secondary level is more about life long habits and plans for out of school fitness and exercise pursuits. This is highly doable with social distancing practices because of the individualization of fitness planning. Also, it is vital that kids develop an interest and skill in individual and dual sports now more than ever.
I will leave you with the top reasons PE is so important for our children, and there's tons of evidence to back these claims. Physical education has shown improved outcomes in academic achievement, in reading and math, decreased behavior referrals, and increased attendance, which are key indicators for success in all children. Phys Ed is the key component of a healthy lifestyle when regular fitness activities are included in the lifestyle of a student, it is possible for them to be fit, to become socially assimilated, reduce stress levels, improve academic performance, help them focus, learn the importance of health and nutrition, and instill positive behaviors. Exercise and PE aids in learning and in one's mental health - something critical for all students, especially during a time such as this. My curriculum and goals are also shown on my personal website and I have many parents and children willing to speak on how PE has helped guide them to be greater learners. We have always been willing to work with other disciplines to achieve academic goals. We have personally taught several Zoom classes with the classroom teachers during this pandemic. Exercise and better mental well-being are essential for students to be able to focus on schoolwork, work through their emotions, and function throughout their day.
Physical education instruction is more important now than ever. I wish I was here to be advocating for more PE and not against the elimination of our program. This is also an equity concern. In light of what is happening across the nation and in Massachusetts, all decisions should follow an equity lens. Children in lower-income families are going to be disproportionately hurt by this decision. Students who come from this background do not have the privilege to participate in outside the school activities - they need daily PE to get their physical activity. There are standards that are being addressed in physical education every day in all of our classes - Ms. Bacher, Mr. LeBlanc, Mr. Dellasanta, and myself. If you come into any of our classrooms or were to watch us via Zoom, you would see that these lessons are planned in all three domains of learning. We teach fundamental skills and movement patterns to become competent and confident movers that will be physically active for a lifetime. We also focus on social-emotional learning with teamwork, cooperation, and communication skills; critical thinking and problem solving through game strategy; compromise and negotiation skills, as well as teamwork and social-emotions learning.
In PE, students learn how to move their bodies fluently and develop the knowledge, fitness levels, physical skills, and personal and social skills necessary for a lifetime of health and physical activity. Physical Education is an integral part of the education program for all students.
For these reasons and the reasons my colleagues have shared is why I hope you reconsider the decision of cutting the unified arts - the children of which in public schools deserve to have equal access to the arts in order to be whole-child healthy learners.