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Phys Ed: What's Up at Your Child's School?

At the New Hope-Solebury Lower and Upper Elementary School north of Philadelphia, students get their "Feelin' Good Mileage Club" card punched for each lap of the track they walk at recess. After 5 miles, they earn the school status symbol, a foot-shaped token.

Pre-teens at Campbell Middle School near Kansas City, Mo., pump iron, ride exercise bikes and climb a rock wall. Seattle's Roosevelt High offers archery, in-line skating, yoga and even unicycling.

It's a far cry from the rope climbing and dodge ball most parents went through as physical education (PE). And if it doesn't sound like the PE your kids get, take note.

"The new PE focuses on total wellness and developing lifelong health habits rather than just teaching students sports," says Tim McCord, PE department chair for the Titusville (Pa.) Area School District. He also heads its PE4life Academy, one of three in the United States. There, teachers, administrators and parents can learn to set up PE4life programs. The not-for-profit group (http://pe4life.com) works to improve daily school PE.

Gym classes must evolve to fight the inactive lifestyles that fuel obesity, Mr. McCord says.

A report from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) "shows that most states receive a failing grade on their physical education requirements," says NASPE President Jacalyn Lund, Ph.D. Most states don't require a set amount of PE. Many allow exemptions or waivers. "Tight budgets often mean money is taken from PE programs to cover the push for scholastic improvements," she adds.

Mr. McCord urges parents to join the PE fight. "First, talk with your children about what they are doing in PE and how often they participate," he says. "Then, go to the school and observe the PE curriculum in action.

"If it's less than you think it should be, become an advocate for change. Speak at a school board meeting, rally other parents to action, promote programs such as PE4life, or seek funding or donations of equipment from local businesses. Do whatever it takes to get quality daily PE into our kids' lives."