Feature

No more couch potatoes

Catherine A. Cocchio
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It’s spring and the playground at Chatham’s Queen Elizabeth II School is alive with the steady beat of jump ropes slapping the asphalt and the sounds of kids repeating age-old chants: “One potato, two potato, three potato, four…”

Once infected with spring fever, students often struggle to maintain their focus on indoor learn- ing.  That  is,  unless  they  happen  to  attend  a school like Queen Elizabeth II, where daily activity is part of every timetable. The school won the Ophea 2005 School Community Award.

The entire school focuses on promoting health- ier  lifestyles through  increased  physical  activity and better nutrition. It is one of five schools piloting an  I Can Be Healthy program sponsored by the local health unit and  other community partners. As part of this focus, the school is reintroducing  old-fashioned  playground  games. It is also replacing chips and pop sold outside the gym  during  nutrition  breaks,  with  healthier choices including cheese, yogurt, ice cream, pick- les, granola bars, chocolate milk and juice.

“Hammering home the idea of living healthier lifestyles sums up  the program in a  nutshell,” says physical education teacher, Dave Allin. “Any- thing that can get kids more active is beneficial. I’d definitely  recommend the program to other schools.”

Each class has two 40-minutes physical education classes in its timetable. That and the comprehensive  intramural program mean the gym is seldom quiet. Allin, one of the driving forces behind  the  Queen  Elizabeth  II  program,  co- ordinates an extensive list of intramural activities such as dodge ball, crab soccer, flag football, soccer, basketball, volleyball and floor hockey. He also oversees numerous school teams.

Classroom teachers wondered how they would squeeze the 20 minutes of daily activity mandated by the province  into timetables already jammed with core subjects, EQAO test preparation, anti-bullying programs, and a variety of health and safety lessons. But, notes Allin,“everything went pretty smoothly. Staff was receptive to time slots allotted to their classes for activity periods and worked their schedules around it.”

Twice a week, on days when there are no regular phys. ed. classes, all three intermediate classes go outside together for 40 minutes just before the first nutrition break. (Queen Elizabeth II operates on balanced day).

Teachers join in, modelling sportsmanship while helping build school spirit. They try to vary activities, keeping at least three choices such as basket- ball, touch football and dodge ball available at once. Some days, they walk the perimeter of the yard, or follow a route through the neighbourhood.

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