Elementary physical education specialists’ jobs set to be cut | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Elementary physical education specialists’ jobs set to be cut

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Fourth-grader Jorge Vargas instructed his friend on the technique to effectively swing a hockey stick on a field covered by wood chips at Bijou Community School.

“Watch, dude,” Jorge said. “Look, not over your waist. You do this for playing golf.”

Jorge was part of 28 students who were outside Thursday with Bijou physical education specialist Therese Colwell. Colwell will find out Friday if she is one of the four of five physical education instructors at the elementary level who will not have their job next year.

The physical education specialist’s cut, part of a $2.7 million reduction next year and announced Feb. 25 at a Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education meeting, was perceived by many parents as too drastic and will put a strain on teachers who will shoulder the additional responsibility of providing physical education to their students.

The program has been around for 14 years, said Colwell. The district will save $205,000.

Colwell has a master’s in elementary education and a supplemental degree in physical education. She’s been with the district for about 14 years, 10 of which have been at Bijou instructing students on health, nutrition and fundamentals of sport.

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“As much as (classroom teachers) value physical education, I think they will not have the time,” Colwell said. “They told me: they’ll play kickball, they’ll have a relay race, they’ll run, but it won’t be skill development and fitness tests that we do.”

Colwell said the district’s fitness scores have improved and are above the state average.

Colwell spent Thursday morning with fourth-graders with hockey sticks. She sometimes uses a bullhorn to give instructions.

Students, all showing concentration, initially passed a plastic ball back and forth. Upping the exercise, students ran while hitting the ball, usually past their partner.

Afterwards, students spoke about their class.

“We learn how to keep our heart strong, how not to smoke, how to keep healthy,” said Jorge, the student who was instructing his friend.

“I get tired (in class), but sometimes when we run I have energy,” Elizabeth Ruiz said.

Colwell goes into classes and retrieves her students. The older grades are taught in the morning while the younger students sweat later in the day. In all, Colwell visits 19 teachers and their classrooms. Teachers are able to use the 45 minutes when the students are exercising for lesson planning.

During one day, Colwell teaches seven classes.

Over at Meyers Elementary, physical education specialist Scott Hudson was working with a group of 16 third graders on tennis racket fundamentals, push-ups and stretching.

Meyers Parent-Teacher Association President Carry Loomis cited a district survey sent to parents prior to the $2.7 million cuts announced last month. About 150 parents wanted physical education retained; for Meyers, an overwhelming majority wanted to keep their respected teacher.

“This district said they heard us but they obviously didn’t hear it at Meyers,” Loomis said.

Hudson had the students balance balls on rackets, then put them in teams to pass the ball from racket to racket. At the end of the period, four groups of four students each did a teamwork exercise by having four tennis rackets spaced apart by a tennis ball. The object was not to have the top ball drop to the ground.

“Oh, nice tennis-ball sandwich,” Hudson told one group. “Good cooperation.”

Hudson said he emphasizes teamwork, movement and skills that students can use to build a foundation in sport.

Other lessons include milk-carton football, climbing ropes, basketball and nutrition.

Hudson said the program not only teaches physical fitness but also stresses students’ exercise is a lifelong skill.

Hudson and Colwell and the three other physical education teachers at the elementary schools are called specialists, but Hudson said the term is arbitrary. All five are paid the same as teachers, depending on years with the district.

Third-grader Jackie Hogan said she likes how Hudson lets the students sing and praised her teacher’s talent.

One physical education specialist will be kept for next year. Colwell has an idea of who it will be but didn’t share the information. She expects to stay in the district next year teaching physical education at a higher level or instructing in a classroom.

“I have no idea how the program is going to look next year,” she said. “As far as physical education goes, it won’t be the same.”

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com