Thursday, June 25, 2009

Happy Birthday SPARK!

“It was 20 years ago today, Dr. Sallis taught the band to play.”

Can you believe it, SPARK is 20 years old! Back in June 1989, Drs. Sallis and McKenzie received funding to start the original research project. Their very first employee was Kecia Carrasco, who began as the office manager; and today, Kecia is SPARK’s Fiscal Manager. One of the two first PE specialists hired, B.J. Williston, is still contributing to SPARK content as a co-author of our K-2 and 3-6 manuals, and she’s working on the next edition of SPARK Middle School PE. We have over 10 trainers that have been conducting SPARK workshops for more than a decade, and many other employees that have been “SPARKing” for over 5 years. Jim and Thom hired me in August 1990 to be the Head Teacher in the research study, and it has been a great ride.

All of us “SPARKers,” past and present – hope you’ll continue to be a part of our growing family. Speaking for Jim, Thom, and all of us on the SPARK team – THANK YOU for a great 20 years.

“Dr. Sallis’ lonely SPARKclub band.”

-Paul Rosengard

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Do You Live in a Healthy Neighborhood?

I was recently asked to propose a short list of indicators of a “healthy neighborhood.” The list was to be considered by the San Diego Childhood Obesity Initiative, which is a wonderful coalition working hard to improve environments and policies to support children’s health. I thought others might be interested in the list, so I am sharing it here.

The items represent my understanding of likely physical or built environmental influences on diet, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors. Many of the items are consistent with evidence. I believe the general concepts are sound, but the specific numbers and distances are best guesses. For present purposes I added a few priority indicators for healthy schools and homes.

Healthy food access

  • Supermarket or other source of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables within ½ mile of homes
  • No more than 2 convenience or liquor stores within ½ mile of homes
  • No more fast food than sit-down restaurants within ½ mile of homes
  • Community garden within 1 mile of homes
  • Weekly farmer’s market within 1 mile of homes

Facilities for active recreation

  • Park with play equipment in good working order within ½ mile of homes
  • Parks have walking paths
  • Daily youth activity programs for free or sliding scale fees in all parks
  • Private recreation facility with sliding scale fees within ½ mile of homes
  • Nearest school activity facilities is open for public use

Designing for active transport

  • Sidewalks on every street in neighborhood
  • Pedestrian aids (crosswalks, signal) at intersection with nearest busy street
  • Street pattern creates direct routes from homes to nearby destinations
  • Nearest shopping area has sidewalks and safe pedestrian crossings
  • Public transit stop within ½ mile of homes

Healthy school environments

  • Evidence-based physical education offered daily
  • Markings on preschool and elementary playgrounds to stimulate active play
  • Sidewalks, marked crosswalks, and traffic calming within ¼ mile of each school to facilitate safe walking and biking
  • Salad bars with multiple raw food choices daily in every cafeteria
  • Only healthy foods provided at school
  • Convenience stores and fast food restaurants are not within ¼ mile of schools
  • No food advertising in schools

Healthy home environments

  • No televisions in children’s bedrooms
  • Only healthy foods out on the counter for snacking
  • Sports and activity supplies available for both indoor and outdoor play
  • A bicycle or skateboard for every child

James Sallis

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rage Against the Political Machine

SPARK was born and bred in California, and while we're proud of our beautiful beaches, mountains, deserts and diversity, when the topic turns to politics, we deflate like a leaky balloon.

That's because when you google, "budget crisis," you see a big picture of the Golden State with a black hole where Sacramento used to be. CA was in terrible economic shape BEFORE the great recession hit. Now, our Governor is actually talking about closing state parks, selling the Del Mar Fairgrounds and racetrack, and other extreme measures to make up for the revenue shortfall. CA is beyond broke -- which connotates no money to spend -- we're in debt, big debt, all the way up to the top of our surfboards.

You know the cycle. Budget woes affect schools, school budgets effect physical education (PE), and politicians begin writing non-sensical legislation. I"m embarassed to say, that a local, San Diego based Assembly-person, Mary Salas, was the ringleader for one of the worst PE inspired ideas since picking teams for dodgeball. She drafted and tried to pass a bill (AB 351) that would allow high school students to take band, ROTC, (et. al.) in lieu of their PE requirement.

This concept was popular with some parents and students, who unfortunately, don't know the difference between physical education (a standards-based, progressive, sequential, and evaluated course of study) and physical activity. And it became painfully obvious Ms. Salas and her staff didn't either. Either that or the idea of upsetting some influential parents was just too hard of a stand to take. I personally spoke on the phone with one of her assistants, and while he listened to reason, I was quite certain his boss's mind was made up.
My argument? Students are physically active (at times) in band and ROTC, of course, but to draw a parallel to those programs and physical education is simply wrong. It's the equivalent of allowing students to take band instead of Math (afterall, they march in formation, count the number of instruments) or ROTC instead of Science (guns are made of metals and consist of elements) or cheerleading instead of English (students read and write routines). You get the idea.

Now look, we all love giving students choices, and ROTC and band in and of themselves, should absolutely be a part of every high school's program. There is no disrespect or devaluation here, I believe ALL learning and moving opportunities are important. It's more an apples to oranges approach when you talk about equivalent substitutes.

And, with the CA high school PE requirement already limited to freshman year -- and one more before graduation -- presenting more "opt out options" represents a move in the wrong direction. Students need MORE quality PE, daily; not less.

Fortunately, physical educators around the state, including Arleen Hammerschmidt, Joe Herzog, Kim Butler, Ashley Wirth, Bruce Bettey, and countless others, rallied with organizations (including SPARK and CAHPERD) to fight this bill and it's backers.

However, in the end, logic and reason prevailed. The bill was killed -- DOA! A true victory for physical education and physical educators -- and our supporters in health, and other related fields.

Well, California is a great place to live. We still have our budget crisis, our crazy politicians, a Governor who has trouble pronouncing our state, but that's OK. When cornered, our people pull together and fight the madness and do what's best for our kids. Let's all hope we have a few parks and pennies to leave them when our latest financial mess is behind us.

-Paul Rosengard

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Physical Educators North of the Border

I always liked the Canadian national anthem. Think it has a nice melody. I heard a real Canadian sing it in beautiful Banff at their national PHE (Physical and Health Education) conference this month, and she really belted it out with pride.

The conference was terrific. It was attended by 1,000 dedicated professionals, a nice mix of university pedagogy people, elementary and middle school practitioners, and a smattering of high school folks. All of them appeared to love their jobs, and yet, they experience some of the same challenges we do in the states (e.g., lack of administrative priority for PE, not enough elementary specialists, classroom teachers responsible to instruct PE but lacking some of the resources to actually do it, secondary people who place coaching first instead of teaching, just to name a few).

So while there were many similarities, there were some differences. What we refer to as Standards, they call Outcomes. Their provinces seem to have more autonomy when it comes to receiving funding then our states do, the weather is (generally speaking), colder more often, so outside activities are less frequent. And, I couldn't help but notice that the % of overweight teachers appeared to be far lower than ours. I give them credit for walking the talk.

I presented a session called, "SPARK's Greatest Hits," but the surprise was that our greatest hits consisted of our unique teaching strategies rather than the terrific activities we're known for. I incorporated a variety of content and instruction examples into 3 main themes:

1. Talk Less
2. Disguise and Differentiate
3. Modify Traditional Sports

One of our SPARK trainers there, Dan Cooney, led a session called, "Disguising Fitness." It was a dynamic sampling of activities from elementary through middle school and the attendees had a great time "playing up a sweat."

The handouts are posted on this website
If you are one of the very nice people I met at the conference, or at Mt. Royal College in Calgary, where I presented on several topics the day prior to leaving for Banff, I hope you'll stay in touch with us at SPARK and take advantage of all the resources we have to offer.
If you're one of the unfortunate few that hasn't visited Canada for vacation or for professional growth, I strongly recommend planning a trip one day. I think you'll find the people are more than accommodating, the physical educators are top notch and happy to share ideas, and the scenery (especially in Banff) is something very special.

Thanks to my new Canadian friends for a great trip, and special kudos to my fantastic hosts, Bill McGregor and Harry Deboer of School Specialty Canada, who made it all happen.

"Oh Canada, We Stand on Guard for Thee!"

-Paul Rosengard