Letter to the editor: Leaders must ensure health and physical education are made a priority for students


I am committed to empowering all children to lead healthy and active lives through effective health and physical education programs. Do the education leaders in our state feel the same way? In December 2015, President Obama signed the new bipartisan federal education legislation into law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). For the first time, health and physical education were recognized as a critical component of a student's well-rounded education. These subjects should play an integral role in the educational experience of all students.

Thanks to the inclusion and elevation of health and physical education within ESSA, we have the opportunity to get all students healthy and active. As our education leaders begin to develop an ESSA implementation plan and set education priorities, I urge our leaders to ensure that health and physical education are made a priority for students. As part of a well-rounded education, health and physical education programs can now be supported by funding allocated for Title I (low socio-economic status schools), Title II (professional development) and Title IV (safe and healthy students). This funding could provide the boost that these programs need to impact the health of students in the long term.

After the passage of No Child Left Behind 15 years ago, we witnessed two alarming and most likely related trends. Health and physical education were too often considered ancillary subjects and therefore the first to be cut in state education budget shortfalls. In addition, child obesity rates reached epidemic proportions, with one in three children ages 10-17 either overweight or obese.

Research has shown that participating in physical activity and physical education improves student attendance, test scores, participation and enthusiasm for other academic subjects, motivation to learn, and reduces discipline referrals. Evidence also shows that effective school health education reduces student participation in behaviors such as smoking, heavy drinking, school misbehavior, and violence.

Now that health and physical education have been prioritized in ESSA as part of a student's well-rounded education and are allowable uses of federal education funding, I believe it's vital that health and physical education become a priority for all students as we work to take a new approach to educating our students. I look forward to the future of health and physical education for our students.


Siobhan Peterson