Stats say Tahoe kids are out of shape | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Stats say Tahoe kids are out of shape

William Ferchland

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / South Tahoe Middle School students Zeppelin Hanson, center, and Jordan McDonald play a game of foot hockey during physical education class on Monday.

Sixth-grader Jordan McDonald might be considered among a minority of Lake Tahoe Unified School District students who are in good shape.

Results of a test taken last year reveal a significant drop in fitness levels across the three grades in Lake Tahoe Unified, but district officials are doubting the scores because of the differences between the 2004-05 and 2003-04 numbers.

“From what I understand, and I have to do more research, it didn’t represent the numbers that we submitted,” Superintendent James Tarwater said. “Those errors can be made like that.”

One teacher, though, seemed unsurprised by the results.

Karin Holmes, a physical education teacher at South Tahoe Middle School, referred to the lack of fitness elementary students received after budget cuts reduced the number of physical education teachers last year.

“It takes its toll when you only have one period of PE at the elementary level,” she said.

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In addition, Holmes said, children and teenagers are not eating healthy and not getting enough exercise outside of school. Video games and fast food play a part, she said.

“They snack on (Flamin’) Hot Cheetos and Cokes,” Holmes said.

In its sixth year, the California Physical Fitness Test is a requirement for all public schools in the state. Tarwater said the district has until Jan. 6 to enter what it believes to be correct numbers.

“We have to verify the numbers because it doesn’t look right to us,” he said.

Students in fifth, seventh and ninth grades are tested in six areas: cardiovascular endurance, body fat, abdominal strength, trunk extension, upper body strength and flexibility.

According to the numbers posted Monday on the California Department of Education’s Web site, roughly 20 percent of fifth- and seventh-graders in the district achieved the minimal levels of fitness in all six categories.

For fifth-graders, who are now in the sixth grade, it was a drop of 5 percentage points from their counterparts in 2003-04 and a 33 point drop from the 2002-03 school year when 51 percent of fifth-graders met all six standards.

While 20 percent of last year’s seventh-graders were fit in all six areas, it did not meet the average mark of 38.2 percent in the past two years.

The district’s scores were also lower than totals in El Dorado County and the state.

McDonald, a student at South Tahoe Middle School, said he likes to stay healthy and especially enjoys running. Sixth-graders at the school receive daily doses of physical education instruction.

On Monday, McDonald was playing foot hockey with his classmates.

“I like running because it gets me exercise and I can build up my body strength,” he said.

McDonald said he exercises because he “can have a better life” and learned the importance from Holmes, his physical education teacher.

At the Boys and Girls Club of South Lake Tahoe, many youngsters said they received, and enjoyed, exercise.

“I play soccer so I really like to run,” said sixth-grader Sonja Burns.

“It gives you something to do because if you’re just sitting there, watching TV, playing video games, it’ll get boring after awhile and you have to do something else,” she added.

Casey Cabristante also liked to run but admitted pushups are tough for her.

“When I go down it’s hard for me to go back up,” Cabristante, another sixth-grader, said.

Sitting in front of a computer game, seventh-grader Zarek Thomas said he skateboards but would rather play the video game “Grand Theft Auto” because it’s “so bloody and gory.”

At the high school level, about 11 percent of 387 freshmen last year met all six standards. It was down from 27 percent in 2003-04 and 34.3 percent in 2002-03.

Ninth-grader Mandy DeWitt said she “sometimes” exercises.

“Does walking around the high school count?” she asked.

DeWitt said she plays soccer in the summer and participates in dance. She detested the thought of long-distance running.

Statewide results have improved during the past years.

“I am pleased to announce the 2005 physical fitness test scores show some forward movement with a 3 to 4 percent increase in overall performance,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell in a prepared statement. “But there are still far too many students failing to reach even minimal levels of physical fitness. A silent epidemic of obesity and poor nutrition is endangering our children’s health and their ability to learn.”

Schools are also required to provide students with individual results, according to the state department.

Results were also divided by gender and ethnicity. In Lake Tahoe Unified School District, generally female students did better than male students while white and Hispanic students did about the same.