On Tuesday schools throughout the Sea to Sky corridor welcomed students back to the classroom. But with the usual new books and pencils came something a little different: a new provincial government policy.
Worried about increasing obesity and unhealthy lifestyles in children, the Ministry of Education announced this week that it will require students to get at least half an hour of physical activity each school day.
The initiative, which will be fully implemented by next year, requires all students in Grades K-9 to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day and those in Grades 10-12 to do at least 150 minutes a week.
Students will be able to use non-school activities to count toward their required 30 minutes a day, including playing tether ball during lunch or walking to school every morning.
“This is not about a regimented ‘this is how you must do it.’ This is about working together to encourage children to find a more natural way to participate in physical activity,” said Education Minister Shirley Bond.
“We want kids to actually change how they think about being physically active at school and at home,” she said.
Pat McKenzie, principal of Signal Hill Elementary School in Pemberton, agreed that encouraging athletic habits of children at a young age is a good idea.
“I think it is important for us to reflect on what we are doing. What are we doing right, where could we add to what we are doing, are we meeting the physical needs of kids. You know, all this makes us look at ourselves and wonder, are we doing the best we can?” said McKenzie.
She added, however, that her students already get a lot of physical activity, between playing hard at recess and two physical education classes a week.
Specifically, the kids have access to a whole range of sports equipment, including soccer, dodge ball, basketball, tether ball, corner ball, hopscotch – and of course bushes and trees.
The school also already has a program in place that encourages students to get active regularly, called Run or Walk Daily (R.O.W.D.). The program gets students to “collect” the number of times they run a kilometre while on school grounds over the school year. Students who run the most kilometres by June will win a water bottle during the end of the year ceremony.
One question raised is whether this new policy will help reach the kids who would not normally get involved in physical activity.
“I think that by making us look at what we are doing, we will ask those very questions,” said McKenzie.
“And that is where we are going to have to be getting more creative and thinking ‘well, is there something we can do in the classroom, when we don’t have PE in the gym, to add to physical fitness.’ There are lots of in-class things you can do, like running on the spot, doing arm circles, knee raises, catch games with one of those whooshy balls, stretching,” she said.
Nolan Cox, vice principal for Whistler Secondary School agreed that the new ministry policy is moving in the right direction in regards to good student health. However, he also felt that students in the Sea to Sky area already lead active lifestyles.
“I am surprised at what a healthy balance there is between the academics and the athletics here in Whistler with our students. It is really neat to see,” said Cox.
“I think that within our students, we have a lot of elite athletes, as well as students that are involved in a number of activities outside the school, like equestrian, and of course the snowboarding, the skiing, the biking, figure skating. I can’t even think of them all,” he said.
Other actions the Ministry of Education is taking to further promote healthy choices and lifestyles in children and youth include recently introduced legislation to fast track the removal of junk food in schools and ban the use of tobacco on school grounds.