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Spotlight on Physical Education in California:

Spotlight on Physical Education in California:


Alhambra Unified School District has five schools participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program and all of them received the Alliance’s National Silver Recognition Award last summer. Judy Huffaker, nutrition education specialist and Healthy Schools Program Champion Award recipient, explains that the extra minutes for physical education looks a little different at each school but most have found that adding it to the lunch period is what works for them. Students in the K-8 schools get a 45 minute lunch period so now they have split that up into 20 minutes of eating and 25 minutes of moving.

Since the physical education teachers are not always present during lunch, they have trained the yard duty supervisors to lead SPARK activities (an approved resource in the Healthy Schools Program Resource Database). They created a circuit training area with stations by using the Healthy Schools Program Indoor Fitness Trail, adding nutrition messages and moving it outdoors. Now they have cards with pictures of students doing different strength training exercises, blown up and placed around the schoolyard.

Huffaker said that this has been working pretty well but inclement weather and staffing/supervision can be a challenge. With budget cuts to the district they have lost many assistant principals and feel like they don’t have enough staff to try some other creative solutions for adding physical education minutes to the day. She has been trying to help teachers implement more physical activity breaks during the day by giving them resources such as JAMmin’ Minutes and Brain Break activities (these can also be found in the Resource Database) that they can use or have students lead during class.

In Alhambra the classroom teachers lead 20 minutes of physical education every day in addition to recess for the elementary students. Middle school students attend two PE classes a week for 50 minutes each and then use the circuit training equipment twice a week for a total of 140 minutes a week.


With support from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, Mark Twain Elementary School in the Lawndale Elementary School District is leading the charge towards a healthier school environment. The district has partnered with Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center which is funding PE specialists to work with teachers on implementing COPA (Creating Opportunities for Physical Activity) physical education standards. The goal is to show teachers how to implement physical education in a sustainable way.

Mark Twain is exceeding PE standards and minutes as mandated by the State of California. With the recent acquisition of the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP)grant for the district and Twain’s pilot program for instant recess funded through UCLA/Kaiser Permanente REACH US – Center for Health Equity and Center to Eliminate Health Disparities (CEED), they are excited about taking their physical activity program to the next level.

The PEP grant funded through the U.S. Department of Education awarded Lawndale ESD $1.4 million. This three year “Project Energy Boosters” program starts this year and will serve all seven K-5 elementary schools in the district and assist them in initiating, expanding and/or enhancing physical education programs that help students excel in the state standards for physical education. In addition to the focus on physical education, this grant supports the broader vision of encouraging the development of lifelong healthy habits and improving nutrition and physical education programming and policies in schools and communities to prevent childhood obesity and decrease the number of children who are overweight and obese.

A leadership group of community members and parents will be created to organize community wide events and train parents as community health advocates. The programs areas of focus are the following: staff development, after school programs and data collection. Staff will be trained on the “Instant Recess” program which employs 5-7 minute energizers featuring cultural dances. They will also work on a more in-depth PE Training model that includes nutrition education and community development. The districts’ afterschool programs will incorporate three 8-week nutrition education sessions and implement age appropriate physical activity programs. Lastly, there will be a significant amount of data collection to measure the programs’ success. There will be yearly Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements for all students, with results made available to parents upon request. They will also implement the PACER test which measures cardiovascular fitness, preparing students for middle school fitness tests. They plan to gauge the amount of student physical activity by use of pedometers and nutrition knowledge through recall devices.

According to Beth Mossman, Principal of Mark Twain Elementary School, “being a part of the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program has helped us focus and look at what really needs to happen. We have upped our minutes for PE at each grade level. We use the resources to make sure we are working on what really matters.”


“We are a unique district at the elementary level in California,” said Fred Ratzlaf, physical education coordinator. “We actually have certified PE teachers that serve our K-6 students.” Students in Sanger Unified School District receive 150 minutes of PE per week. Since joining the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program they have added nutrition education and incorporated physical activity breaks to the classroom.

“We are having budget challenges like everyone else in the country, but we are determined to continue our high quality PE program even with fewer resources,” Ratzlaf continued. “We are a district with a very high percentage of students on Free and Reduced Lunch but we have high performing students. We believe that our PE program is an integral part of that. A lot of schools are not taking time out of the class for PE but we do it and our kids perform better because they are healthier.”