In 2007 the Division of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Delta State entered into a partnership with the Cleveland School District to help facilitate a model comprehensive physical education program over the next three school years.
The partnership was part of a federal grant, Carol M. White Physical Education Program Grant, which the Cleveland School District wrote in conjunction with division faculty.
John Alvarez, assistant professor of HPER, said, "The reason we wrote it was because there was no coordinated physical education in elementary schools at that time. There were pockets and a there would be a PE teacher at one or two schools but there was nothing K-6. There was no connection with what they did and what junior high and high school did. The idea was to get them all on the same page and make sure we had it all the way through."
Alvarez said the grant was a physical education improvement grant and the group wrote a K-12 curriculum and all of the physical education were involved and by using the Spark program classroom teachers were able to get involved as well.
At the same time Mississippi adopted the Healthy Students Act.
The Mississippi Healthy Students Act, passed in the 2007 legislative session, requires public schools to provide increased amounts of physical activity and health education instruction for K-12 students. The Act mandates 45 minutes per week of health education instruction and 150 minutes per week of activity based instruction in Grades K-8.
"The district contracted with the division of HPER to bring in graduate students to work there. Most of the students were certified when they came to us as grad students and everyone once in a while we would use a senior student in the HPER teacher program," said Alvarez.
"We saw improvements in overall fitness and the teachers and kids loved it. It was very much needed and every year we showed improvements," he added.
At the same time Alvarez was doing research with another group and studying the five components of physical fitness, which are, cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility, body composition, and how those components relate to academic success.
"What we found was that the more healthy fitness zones they were in out of the five the better they performed academically in the MCTE tests. There's a plethora of research out there that says the same thing. We just did it with Mississippi students to show it's true here as well as other states. We also found that the more fitness zones they were good in the more likely they were to attend school and have fewer behavior issues," said Alvarez.
As a result of the grant's success the Mayor's Task Force for a Healthier Community was created.
After the grant was finished Alvarez said he wanted to keep the momentum and continue to go in a positive direction so he and Matt Dalrymple, HPER instructor and PEAK project coordinator, along with others, approached the mayor and suggested the task force.
"Physical education isn't something that should just be in the walls of the schools; it should be a community concern," said Alvarez.
"We have three or four events over the year. We do the spring fling, which was about a month ago. It had a carnival atmosphere and we taught the kids to fish and had kite flying. There are kids of all ages out there being active and learning how to enjoy the parks," he said.
"From now until August is the most vulnerable time for them to gain weight and become less fit. Teaching them to understand how important physical education is. We're not talking about just going out to play kickball with them, we're teaching them why it's important for them to do this and how to do it themselves over the long haul of becoming a physically educated person," said Alvarez.
"You're talking about lifetime activity skills. P.E. has kind of shifted in the last 10 years from the sports and games to teaching kids these lifetime skills; things they can do when they're in high school, college, and grown adults. That's the shift you're seeing in P.E. now and it's to teach kids about wellness and how to be healthy for a lifetime. What that grant allowed us to do was set up our community and get community partnerships. “That was part of a comprehensive school health program. We're not only getting physical activity during the school day but there are physical activity opportunities outside of that school day. The other piece to that is the family and community involvement. I wonder how many parents know that their kid isn't getting physical education regularly in the school system by a trained professional," said Dalrymple.
Dalrymple stressed the importance of understand that P.E. was no longer a coach tossing a ball to kids and then reading a newspaper, it is educating children on healthy lifestyles.
"Everyone does realize a good healthy lifestyle means exercise and eating right. We have a lot of opportunities in Cleveland like bike trails and walking trails and we would like to see more people use those. A lot of people do use them but I would love to see them used more," said Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell.
For more information or about the task force contact Brenda Ellis at the Cleveland School District, (662) 843-3529.