CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the rush of end-of-session legislative business, we hope state Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale considers a simple bill aimed at nudging West Virginia children toward a healthier, fitter future.
Senate Bill 455, called "Move to Improve," is in the Senate Education Committee and worthy of passage. It would require 30 minutes of physical activity be integrated into the school day for elementary and middle school students, and it specifies minimum amounts of physical education at all levels.
But the requirement is very flexible, not onerous. Teachers and principals may incorporate physical activity into their day as suits them best. A number of schools are already doing so. The Gazette's series "The Shape We're In" found educators who used the gathering time before school days to have children dance, jump rope, bounce balls and wake up their bodies and minds. Some kindergarteners practiced new vocabulary words by cavorting like animals -- slither, hop, fly.
SB 455 would signal to all schools that a modest amount of daily exercise is an important priority for the state's children, and give schools an official motivation to share and borrow good ideas with each other. If you doubt that such a simple change is worthy, consider:
* For years, obesity and diabetes have exploded among West Virginia's population -- and those conditions have been developing at ever-younger ages, including elementary school children. Nutritious food and regular exercise prevent, control and even reverse these conditions.
* Children have many conditions that prevent them from running and playing outside like their grandparents did. Tougher academic standards, while welcome, can create conditions that keep children inside and in desks for longer periods. TV, computers and video games encourage sitting instead of moving. Fear of strangers, busy roads or unsafe play spaces keep children indoors when they are not in school.
* It turns out that what is good for the body might actually be good for the mind, as well. West Virginia educators tell us that when they add physical activity to their day, focus and attention increases while behavior problems and absenteeism decrease. Making time for physical activity may actually boost grades, test scores and everything that comes with it -- such as how well students apply themselves in school.
* Of course, healthy children tend to grow into healthy adults. Children already threatened by preventable obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are more likely to suffer complications from those conditions, die prematurely and cost a fortune in health care in the process. Even if no one cared anything for quality of life, the financial reasons alone justify cheap, simple steps that prevent these conditions.
SB 455 is sponsored by a dozen senators and is supported by the state Board of Education, both major teachers' organizations and several child advocacy groups.
It's a good idea because children do not learn only what adults tell them. Children learn what adults show them. If it is important to incorporate some physical activity into the day, as all the best physical and neuroscience indicates, schools can help teach that habit by modeling good behavior from an early age.