By Jessica Lilly
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
The Senate recently passed the “Move to Improve Act” which could change the daily grind in state classrooms. The bill is in response to the Healthy Lifestyles Act, which was passed by the legislature in 2005 without a mechanism to assure implementation. Lawmakers say they’re trying to address an epidemic of childhood obesity in West Virginia.
Children and teens spend more than half of their waking hours at school.
West Virginia has some of the highest rates of the highest-cost health problems related to obesity and physical inactivity such as type 2 diabetes and obesity-related cancers.
About 33 percent of children age 10 to 17 in the state are overweight or obese according to a national survey taken between 2011 and 2012. Senate majority leader John Unger is one of the main sponsors for Senate Bill 455. It would mandate 30 minutes of physical activity three days a week in elementary schools.It’s meant to help address the growing health problem and possibly save the state some cash.The bill states that in West Virginia, the direct medical cost of obesity was $8.9 million in 2009.In elementary schools, some teachers say the transition would be simple.
Mercer County Kindergarten Teacher Billie Wood says she already uses movement in her lessons and it’s the way to go.
"We put motions to songs we’ll do Vimeo with the smart board where they actually get up and move and dance and it’s surprising how fast they learn with movement," Wood said.
Wood says she also uses ‘old time records’ like Whip Hap Palmer to help children in her classroom move to the educational beat, and she often joins them in the dance.
Still a lack of resources, pressure to increase test scores, and even age create challenges. Elementary students are generally easier to motivate with physical activity during a lesson than say a middle school or high school student.
But science teacher Edward Evans is finding a way. His students keep moving - frequently walking around to different stations for lab.
"Is it challenging, yea," Evans said. "Is it doable, absolutely. It’s just a matter of creative scheduling."
The bill requires middle-school students to attend at least one full period of physical education per day with 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity.
High school students would need one full course of physical education for graduation and would have the opportunity to enroll in an elective lifetime physical education course.
West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia have both supported the bill.