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Get Moving, Part 1

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From grooving to the Beatles to Frisbee golf; it's all about getting kids moving in physical education at the Union Elementary School in Montpelier.

"I just love getting active," said Brooks Duprey, a third-grader.

"We do lots of activities," said Emily Swenson, a third-grader.

"To me it is my favorite special because it is the one special where you really get to play around," said Sina Fallahi, a third-grader.

And in this class every minute counts.

"Usually we start by doing a warm-up, usually a tag game of some sort," Duprey said.

Teachers MJ Jennings and Emmanuel Riby-Williams share the responsibility of keeping these students on their feet.

"I have always known that I have wanted to be a PE teacher because I am a very physical and active person," Jennings said.

"I am a perfect example of someone who loves to move and so this job is perfect for me because I am always on my toes," Riby-Williams said.

But these kids are not. PE at this kindergarten through fifth grade school comes twice a week, and these professionals say it's not enough as they fight to keep kids fit and take on childhood obesity.

"I would love to see them every single day, every other hour would be fantastic," Jennings said.

"Kids moving three to five times a week, 60 minutes each time is what we are hoping for," Riby-Williams said.

They're hopes Lindsay Simpson has heard before. She's the physical education consultant for Vermont's Agency of Education.

"I would like to see a more prescriptive time allotment so the PE teachers contact time is more standard across the state," Simpson said.

Currently the state's School Quality Standards offer few guidelines when it comes to how much time Vermont kids should spend in PE.

"Right now those standards say that elementary education has to have two times per week or the equivalent there of phys ed," Simpson said.

It might sound simple enough until you learn that those two times per week have no time requirements at all.

"Some schools may choose to have two blocks of 40 minutes a week, some may decide, oh, we are going to have one block of 40 minutes and we call that two 20 minute blocks," Simpson said.

Simpson says local control is largely behind the differences.

"Because it comes down to local control, local resources are going to end up becoming the determinant of what that time looks like," Simpson said.

In Rutland City, elementary students go to PE for 45-80 minutes a week depending on grade. In Bennington, it's two to three times a week in 30 minute blocks. The twice-weekly visits in Montpelier are 45 minutes each. All are far below the 150 minutes of instruction a week recommended by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education-- but they are not alone. Simpson struggled to point to a single community meeting the national benchmark.

"There are a lot of pressures on schools in terms of academic performance and we understand that. I would like to see some schools strive for it," Simpson said.

Back at Union the PE team says it does not have to be either or, as they routinely find ways to reinforce academic skills in the gym and outdoors.

"They have score cards where they are keeping track of negative numbers, positive numbers, so we are incorporating a lot of different areas of education into our PE classes," Jennings said.

And like many schools across the state they're finding ways to reinforce physical activity in the classroom.

"Recently we've come up with a program where kids have brain breaks within their classrooms," Riby-Williams said.

"It's not just about getting your heart rate up and then going back to the classroom, we want to bring all these other pieces into it," Jennings said.

Riby-Williams says finding new ways to incorporate more activity into his kids' routines will take families getting on board since he says legislative action is unlikely.

"At this point I think we have to work with what we have in terms of encouraging parents and reaching out to parents and making them be able to create opportunities for their children," Riby-Williams said.

Children who-- for now-- seem to be enjoying PE.

"Really awesome, really, really, really awesome," said Tia Leno, a third-grader.

"He motivates us to stay healthy and he motivates us to have fun," Brooks Duprey said.

Learning from their teachers and, if they had it their way, sound like they'd have fun rocking and rolling or playing Frisbee golf five days a week.

"I think it would be tiring but fun," said Emily Swenson, a third-grader.

"I would really enjoy that. I would have a lot of fun," Sina Fallahi said.

Related Story:

Get Moving, Part 2

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