OXFORD — A group of Oxford Elementary School fourth-grade students are asking for more time for physical education.

In letters to the SAD 17 board of directors, the students said they have gone as long as five weeks in a row without gym class because of field trips, holidays and other activities. They usually get 40 minutes of physical education per week with teacher Emily Ellis.

Ellis suggested students write a “persuasive letter” to the directors because she has heard the same complaint for the past 18 years.

They wrote that physical education is “fun and healthy,” “gets us active,” and “Mrs. Ellis inspires us.”

“Your body needs exercise,” fourth-grader Georgia Wright said at a recent gym class in Oxford. “It’s good for your heart and it’s good for your bones.”

Jean Zimmerman, health education and physical education consultant for the Maine Department of Education, said Maine does not have a set time requirement for any of the eight required content areas, which include academics and physical education.

Maine based the development of its physical education standards on the national standards created by the National Association of Sport and Physical Education,  but implementation is a local decision.

Zimmerman said national recommendations for physical education are 150 minutes per week for elementary school students, and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students during the school year.

“Maine is a local-control state so school districts set their own schedules,” Zimmerman said. “At the same time, state law requires students must demonstrate proficiency in all eight content areas to meet graduation requirements. The foundational information students receive in elementary and middle school is essential for this process.”

Speaking on behalf of the SAD 17 directors, Superintendent Rick Colpitts addressed the students’ concerns recently in a a letter, writing, “Providing more gym classes at our elementary schools is a long-term goal for the board and is identified as a priority in its five-year strategic plan.”

It is one of many goals, such as class-size reduction, expanded music and art programming and improved school fleet, that the board hopes to fund over the next several years, he said.

“All these things cost money and there is not enough of that available to get everything done we want to see improved,” Colpitts said.

Colpitts suggested students be patient and, meanwhile, try to live a healthier lifestyle by getting outside more often and playing, taking walks with family and friends, participating in community sports programs and eating healthy foods.

“Keep moving!” he advised.

Ellis said she is aware of the funding issues but is concerned that schools aren’t doing enough to teach young students good habits for a healthy, active lifestyle that may help avoid health issues later in life.

“Elementary school is a great place to start,” Ellis said, “not to mention the fact that these bodies are made to move. Children simply are not designed to sit for long periods of time.” 

“’Sweat and Smiles’ — that’s my motto for every class,” she said.

The students first engage in a warm-up exercise to get their heart rates up. They may next go to exercise stations and then practice a skill, such as throwing, lifting weights or dribbling. At the end of the class, the students participate a game or activity, usually in small groups, using the skills they learned during the class.

“We talk about why we do things and why it is important to get our heart rates up,” she said.

Making sure the children move, strengthen their heart rates and enjoy the class are key, she said.

“When I hear, ‘This is better than video games!’ I know that we’ve been successful,” Ellis said.

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