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Jamie Jeffrey: Will politics trump health for kids?

By Dr. Jamie Jeffrey

When I began to support the health of West Virginia children outside of the four walls of my pediatric practice, I never imagined that I would have to fight for recess for our children. Never in a million years!

Move to Improve (SB 455), a piece of legislation that would encourage teachers and principals to incorporate physical activity into the school day, was killed by Delegate Mary Poling who chose not to put it on the House Education Committee agenda in time to move it to the House floor. Move to Improve unanimously passed in Senate Health, Senate Education and the full Senate. It has been stuck in House Education for two weeks. We were told by Poling Wednesday morning, after weeks of unreturned calls, that she is not even running it.

Why? Move to Improve would integrate more physical activity throughout the school day. Simple, 10 minutes of activity while students wait to go to class, a 20-minute recess. Viola! Add another jammin' minute break that was so popular with the Let's Move active school initiative and a couple of active learning sessions. Wow, that is already, an extra 15 minutes for a grand total of 45 minutes of physical activity. And this did not take away from the core curriculum. And it did not cost a penny. Mingo County schools practice this model and see increased attendance, decreased suspensions and increased standardized test scores.

So what would her reason be? "Too much on teachers to document the physical activity for monitoring," Poling replied. Hmm. The master school schedule documents morning activity and ecess. Done. I am not sure to what documentation she is referring. Not part of Move to Improve.

Teacher documentation was never brought up when our team of Dr. Emily Murphy and Joe Smith presented to the House Education Committee months ago. At that point, the committee seemed to embrace this bill with open arms. Now Delegate Poling is letting down our kids. Disgusting!

My friends at the Capitol tell me, "It's politics." Is that what I'm supposed to tell my patients? I suppose I am naive. I thought for sure something that was such a win-win for kids and for education (remember the improved test scores and discipline), would prevail.

Our team included kids, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and state education administrators in writing the bill at more than 21 community forums across West Virginia. We received overwhelming positive support from House Speaker Tim Miley and other house leaders. The only resistance we have heard was from middle school teachers concerned about kids settling down after the activity and block schedules. The scientific evidence actually shows the opposite -- fewer discipline problems, better concentration, higher test scores - a no brainer!

Active kids learn better. Our early childhood educators are experts on this topic. The "I am Moving, I am Learing" initiative that has transformed pre-kindergarten in Kanawha County is a perfect example. Kids simply aren't wired to sit in a desk all day.

Poling has long supported education in her career; she now will be remembered for trying to kill the physical activity bill while supporting feeding our kids cupcakes (yes, a real bill, HB4307). She and House Leadership can still suspend the rules and make this happen. The future of our kids is looking heavier without their immediate action.

 


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