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Say Goodbye to Typical Gym Class: FSU HPER Programs Offer Alternatives for Students

The words "physical education" usually conjure up images of sweaty students doing jumping jacks or hustling around a field or court for the glory of their school. Those students who lack the interest or ability to excel in these activities usually end up feeling left out at best, or at worst, like "nerds." Students with special needs can feel especially left out.

But new options in teaching physical education and recreation now offer alternatives for students. The faculty and education majors in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Program at Frostburg State University are now offering an array of these options to schools and agencies throughout the tri-state region.

"We're developing a new kind of physical education with new attributes," says Troy Streiby, director of the Adventure Sports Track of the HPER Program at FSU. These attributes include non-competitive games, team-building activities, dance and a wide variety of adventure sports. "We compare people just to their abilities, not to those of others, or to statistics."

By starting early with young children, teachers trained to instruct this way can instill the concept of fitness and health as an exciting lifestyle rather than a burden. The benefits range from the personal to the communal, including increased self-confidence, initiative, maturity and a greater sense of community spirit.

As Dr. Susan Arisman, dean of the FSU College of Education says, "This is not your typical physical education. They [the faculty and students] are developing models for the state and the nation."

The goal is to meet the needs of a wider range of students, including those with disabilities. "This is how they're going to feel whole," says Streiby. The sheer variety of these activities allows teachers and student teachers to select and adapt them as appropriate for their students. Now gym class activities can include a high ropes course, inline skating, climbing walls, skateboarding, aerobics, yoga, dance or rhythm games, among others. Depending on location, students can canoe or scuba dive.

At the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, students eagerly anticipated Wednesday afternoons during the past two semesters, when HPER student teachers led them in archery, body awareness games, aerobics, rhythm games and yoga. Sometimes the students came to FSU to take advantage of the climbing wall and the pool for swimming games. These students cope with a range of disabilities, and some contend with multiple physical challenges.

Bob Haines, physical education director at the school, is pleased with the results. "It's the highlight of the year. We've tried to incorporate the FSU program within our curriculum," he says. He has seen connections develop between his students and their student teachers, who, he says, are "relaxed and interact well."

At Allegany County's Alternative School, physical education director John Horrell is impressed as well. Because of behavioral difficulties, these 6th through 12th grade students have been removed from their home schools. The adventure sports program that Streiby and the HPER students bring to the Alternative School is intended to teach these students to be more successful at their home schools and after graduation. Most of these students do not care for traditional sports, but they do enjoy the aquatics, ropes course, climbing wall and roller blading activities with the HPER student teachers, both at the school and at FSU.

"They're learning team-building, self-esteem, problem-solving and trust," says Horrell. "We didn't have to discipline them." Horrell has observed that they clearly enjoyed the individual attention and one-on-one interaction from their student teachers.

Students at several county schools have had a taste of these activities as well. At St. Michael's School in Frostburg, the Cooperative Team Challenge used cooperative games with an academic component to create an integrated experience for students. Middle school students at Beall Junior-Senior High School have enjoyed daily in-line skating. Joni Morrison, who works with Streiby at FSU, offers an adaptive program at Cash Valley and West Side Schools that Streiby described as a "service to the county not otherwise provided." At Allegany High School in Cumberland, Rita Schoenadel's girls' gym classes took advantage of curriculum changes that included new activities, including archery and inline skating.

"I'm excited because it's something different," Schoenadel comments. "We're lucky to have this resource."

The impact of the HPER initiatives has moved beyond Allegany County. Other beneficiaries have included Greenway Middle School of Pittsburgh, Deer Valley YMCA Camp, the Appalachian Laboratory's environmental outreach programs and the Summer's Best Two Weeks program.

It all began when HPER professors Charles and Bonnie Hircock attended a convention during the summer of 1995. By combining the ideas they learned at the convention with Maryland school reform initiatives and a solid HPER program, the Hircocks made program changes to "turn out teachers of quality and be leaders in the field in the state." The result was a new program at FSU called "Topics in Physical Education," commonly referred to as TOPE.

"You can teach any discipline through movement," according to Dr. Charles Hircock. Through TOPE, these student teachers are trained to integrate all subject areas into physical education, using national and state content standards. Dr. Bonnie Hircock used her experience in the public schools to create these "dimensions in learning." This synthesis allows teachers to take advantage of multiple intelligence theory, which identifies eight different types of human intelligence that vary in degree according to the individual and his or her stage of development.

"We try to make it as real life as we possibly can," Dr. Charles Hircock says. By doing so, the goal is to "turn out teachers of quality who will be leaders in the field in the state," he adds.

School districts have taken notice. "We have a good hiring history. We're proud of it," Dr. Charles Hircock notes. "The program is working very, very well." And Streiby sees it as a terrific promotional tool for FSU's HPER, especially for local high school students. Some students have sent letters with positive comments to their student teachers; perhaps some may be inspired to enroll in the FSU HPER program.

Clearly passionate about his mission, Streiby wants to see TOPE-trained teachers "give students a piece of [their] hearts, to give up heart and soul." "We want to see physical education become not just a subject, but a lifestyle and to give physical education a place in people's heads and hearts," Streiby adds.

For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

Telephone: 301-687-3171
Fax: 301-687-7589