Las Cruces Public Schools blends movement and activities with nutrition and personal health

April 18, 2016

Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) is always looking for innovative ways of changing the way P.E. classes are taught in the state of New Mexico. Through support from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation and its HEAL initiative, the school district is revising a traditional skills-based gym curriculum into one that blends movement and activities with nutrition and personal health.

The school district’s “Healthy and Fit” project is a three-year strategy that aims to develop a sustainable culture within LCPS around health and physical fitness that contributes to the development to the “whole child.”

“The Healthy Fit kids program is not just about getting kids to be physically active. It is about teaching kids to learn about their body and how it works best,” says Jim Maes, who was hired last September as the Las Cruces Public Schools staff development specialist for health and physical education.

The position was among the first steps LCPS articulated it would take when the Health Foundation agreed to fund the effort under its Healthy Eating, Active Living initiative. Maes’ charge is to design and test curricula for both health and physical education for the K-12 school system. Or, as he puts it, “Giving students the tools to be socially, physically, intellectually, culturally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.”

At the outset, Las Cruces Public Schools assembled a 12-person committee to research P.E. curricula. It was through the committee process that the school district moved to adopt the “Focused Fitness-FIVE FOR LIFE” P.E. curriculum, which uses age-appropriate academic instructional units in an activity-based setting to move students through a continuum of learning without compromising activity time.

Take for example, the activity called “Fish Pond.” The key concept for P.E. teachers to get across is the importance of a balanced diet. The objective of the activity is to get teams of students to select foods necessary to create three balanced meals, and the instructor does it through a relay race where students run to nutrition cards that have been spread across an area, find a nutritional item they’d like on their plate, then toss a bean bag into the “fish pond” to secure the item. The relay exchange is then made to the next student.

During the relay, “other students are not standing and waiting their turn,” explains Maes. “They are doing the assigned exercises as they rotate through the game. When the teams complete their plates, the students will share with the group what makes a balanced meal and why it is important to include food from all food groups. Before the lesson, the instructor reviews the concepts of a balanced meal, the food groups and the five components of fitness.”

With Fish Pond, you can see the emphasis on movement and knowledge of nutrition, and how the activity brings both into play.

Testing and implementing an entirely new curriculum for physical education and health is something Las Cruces P.E. teachers are getting used to. “This process always takes people out of their comfort zones and challenges the individual to create new and innovative ways to deliver instruction,” says Maes. “I need to make sure teachers are supported and encouraged to be creative and demonstrate their ideas to all colleagues.”

Change is never easy. Particularly when, like Las Cruces Public Schools, you’re working to overhaul decades-old instruction around a subject as set as physical education.

The state of New Mexico is taking notice, though. In April it honored Las Cruces Public Schools and Superintendent Stan Rounds with a state health department award for improving health through the Healthy and Fit project.

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