P.E. teaches trust, risk-taking, teamwork

Posted December 13, 2009

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Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, visits a California school where physical education teaches life skills.

P.E. can mean only jumping jacks and running laps. However, an increasing number of schools are taking a fresh approach to P.E.

Gym class teaches life lessons Gym class teaches life lessons

At San Rafael High School in northern California, P.E. is about fitness, fun and high-flying adventure.

"The new look at physical education is getting kids to understand why they're doing things," San Rafael teacher C.J. Healey said. Teachers are "not just barking orders, but also helping them learn and understand how their bodies work and why it is important to be strong in these areas."

Most P.E. classes incorporate a cooperative challenge, such as untying a human knot.

"We put them into where they're with students of all different races and backgrounds and languages, and we give them challenges," Healey said. "In the case of kids who don't speak the same language, they have to find other ways to communicate to solve the problem."

The children are learning mental skills necessary for other classes as well, Principal Judith Colton said.

"If you have to do it as a team and there are all these rules as to how you do it, you're into problem-solving and critical thinking," Colton said. "Whether or not we put those words to it at that moment, that's what they are doing."

Risk-taking and leadership are the lessons taught at San Rafael's "Adventure Room." It is the brainchild of former P.E. teacher Bill Monti and was built using lots of sports equipment the school already had.

Monti said the activities, including a climbing wall and a zip line, challenge the students in ways normal P.E. doesn't.

"This is real to the kids. I mean, the risk factors are there. They see them, and they are afraid of them," Monti said.

Students said they learn to overcome their fears and trust each other during exercises in the Adventure Room.

"It's more about teamwork and making sure you don't screw up and end up falling on something, but mostly, trust is a big one," a student, Ruth, said.

It's about "being trustworthy, but also trusting other people," Healey said. "Solving problems, working in teams and taking risks are really important skills that kids need to learn somewhere to be successful."


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