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Published:August 17th, 2007 01:42 EST
West Virginia Policy Changes Limit Suncrest Middle Schoolers' Elective Choices

West Virginia Policy Changes Limit Suncrest Middle Schoolers' Elective Choices

By Julie Whiteman

Students at Suncrest Middle School, along with middle school students around the state, are being required to take a whole semester of physical education, according to the new changes made to West Virginia Education Policy 2510.

The idea is to help cut the obesity problem in WV, but for students like Lauren Demaske, an eighth grader at Suncrest Middle School, this extra class serves as a  blockade for other electives she would have liked to have taken-- such as Spanish class. Assistant Principal Christy Lynch Burkhart says, “For our smart kids, this is a waste of an elective.”

According to Susan Bigelow, Career Lesson teacher at Suncrest Middle, students are required to take some form of math, history, english, science and newly required reading already every semester. There are eight periods in the school day, and this already accounts for five of them. Many students at Suncrest participate in the gifted program which accounts for a sixth. Here is the tricky part: before, if this student wanted to take band and a foreign language, or an advanced math course and technical education, they could easily choose two electives of their choice. But now, with the requirement of the physical education class, they must give up electives such as foreign languages and advanced math to fit physical education into their schedules, even if they are already involved in a sport.

“I can understand if you don’t play a sport, that they want you to be educated in health and athletics, but I think [physical education] should be an elective,” says Lauren Demaske’s mother, Bambi Demaske. Lauren seems to feel the same and says, “. . . we should be able to choose the classes we want to take.”

On the other side of things, Physical Education teacher Jared Bennett says, “Health is life. If you miss a period in life, the repercussions are a lot worse.” He explains that the goal of physical education teachers is to teach the students “lifetime” activities that they might continue to play throughout life. Bennett says this will not only benefit their physical health, but also mental and emotional health as well. This, he says, is what sets physical education apart from other courses and makes it unique. When asked whether or not he thought students who played a sport should still have to take the required physical education course, Bennett said that the students who are involved in a sport outside of school help set an example for the other students in the class. “It’s an internet and video game world,” said Bennett, “kids don’t get up and out.” Bennett expressed a concern for the growing obesity rate in WV and the serious implications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and many other serious health problems.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of adolescents who are overweight has more than tripled from 1980 to 2002. An article from the National Association of State Boards of Education says, “The obesity epidemic is one of the greatest public heath, social, and economic challenges of the 21st century. Without a strong contribution from schools, we are not likely to reverse the epidemic.” The prevalence of obesity in Monongalia County was 19.2% to 22.2% as of 1999 compared to the rate of 19.7% for the United States at that time. And according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 280,000 and 325,000 people die each year from obesity.

            Many programs and strategies have already been put into place. For example, West Virginia is the only state so far that bans the sale of junk food in vending machines, and is only joined by Colorado in a ban on junk food in school stores, as well. Interactive dance programs have been implemented in some WV schools to help with physical activity, and in years past, Mrs. Susan Bigelow has taught a fun interactive program on the movie “Super-size Me,” dealing with health and food education.