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Sanford D. Horn: Phys ed for students’ minds and bodies

We can either pay now or we can pay more, later.

For once I concur with a spending bill that hit Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk before the legislative session crosses the finish line. This is the just over $18 million price tag to more than double the amount of time Fairfax County elementary school students will spend in physical education – from 60 minutes a week to 150 minutes.

At a mere half hour per school day, I would like to see that amount raised to equal a full period a day. Quite frankly this legislation ought to be Commonwealth-wide and include all grade levels.

The $18+ million is a mere pittance in a society rapidly approaching morbid obesity on a grand scale. Compare this to the amount spent on health care and sick days later in life when losing weight and getting into better shape becomes more challenging and more costly in terms of dollars and shortened lifespans.

Critics site more time needed on art, music, English, reading, math, science and social studies. As one with a number of years teaching social studies, I strenuously concur. This is why a longer school day and even a longer school year are so vital.

Hire more teachers and enter into a public-private partnership with corporate America as I recommended in 2006 when I was a candidate for the school board in Alexandria. Corporations dump millions of dollars into naming rights of various stadia around the country. Why not do likewise with schools for a tax write-off?

This is win-win – the school benefits with a necessary infusion of dollars for textbooks, lab equipment, art and music supplies as well as teacher salaries when more teachers are hired. Hiring more teachers becomes pertinent as a longer school day and longer school year will require additional staff. Doing so will prevent teacher burnout, the number one reason retention numbers drop on an annual basis.

For the same reason children need the left brain-right brain juxtaposition in terms of a balance between academics and the creative, physical education also provides an outlet students need.

Students shuttled from classroom to classroom with nothing but academic classes exhibit restlessness and hyperactivity. This is due to not having a physical outlet. As a teacher, I can attest to the importance of students having that outlet. Without it, disruptions in class rise substantially.

Physical education should be designed to not just help children stay in shape, but instruct them in a sense of fair play, teamwork, team sports and also the importance of competition. Competition has widely been removed from American schools, and that is shameful. Children must learn about winning and losing at an early age so as to prepare themselves for the realities and rigors of life outside the school building and schoolyard.

Signing this bill into law is a win-win for all involved – teachers, parents, taxpayer and most importantly, the students. Unlike the teachers’ unions who admit they are not for the teachers or the students, just their own craven power, this legislation is for the students’ well-being today and tomorrow.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria.