Did you attend the recent SHAPE America National Convention in Seattle? If so, you witnessed a special and very significant announcement! If not, don’t worry, we will fill you in!
At the convention, brochures, poster boards, and temporary tattoos contained the words “50 Million Strong by 2029.” Well, what exactly does that mean? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!
This fall, students entering preschool will graduate in 2029: Fourteen years from now. SHAPE America has set the goal that all of these students will be physically active and healthy. If you think about it, it is a brave, bold, and audacious goal. The same description was used when in 1961 President John Kennedy announced his “moonshot” goal: To put a man on the moon within the decade and bring him safely back to earth. At that time there was no certainty of success. In fact failure was much more likely. America had yet to put a man in space and trailed the Soviet Union in the space race. But Kennedy’s announcement inspired the nation. And in just 8 years, Neil Armstrong stood on the moon’s surface.
We all know that today too many of the students in our schools are far from being physically active and healthy. Worsening obesity and the associated negative health consequences will have a catastrophic social, economic, military, and emotional impact on the nation’s future if left unabated. That is why so many groups outside of our schools are anxious to turn things around. While their interest is good for our students, we should ask ourselves how it might impact the health and physical education professions. We have seen examples from around the country of outside groups entering schools, running programs, and justifying HPE program and position cuts. It’s time for us to decide how to respond.
We can choose to do nothing and let our future be determined by others. This may be the easiest but it is not the wisest choice. It risks marginalizing us further until we retreat into our gymnasiums and understandably be referred to as “gym teachers.” Alternatively, we can take responsibility for creating the foundation for future success. We need to recognize that no one is better-qualified or situated to get America’s youth physically active and healthy. Present in almost every one of the nation’s 100,000 schools, approximately 200,000 health and physical education teachers have more than a decade to guide America’s 50 million students towards healthy living.
But where’s the pride? We are more than just a delivery service. We all know that it is insufficient to simply get kids active and imagine that this is going to transform their lives. We all know that it is more important what children choose to do when they are not with us that is more important than what happens in our classrooms and gyms. In contrast to others, we alone have the opportunity to develop personal relationships with every one of the 50 million students and to help them see the relevance and value of health and physical activity.
So the question remains, “Will we do this?” Will we rise up to the challenge and recognize that it is insufficient to merely provide opportunities for our students to learn skills and be physically active. Many people diet but few actually lose weight. It’s not good enough to teach but ignore whether or not our students are actually learning. And this is where the “50 million strong by 2029” comes in. We need to do whatever it takes to deliver on the promise of getting every – and I mean every – student in our schools physically active and healthy by 2029. Sooner if possible.
It’s not going to be easy. If it were we would already be doing it. And no one is saying that the nation’s health education and physical education teachers aren’t trying. But for us to succeed we must accept that “trying” is not good enough. We don’t need to work harder but we do need to work smarter. We need to think differently about our jobs and be willing to work towards change. Schools are the perfect location for us to get all of America’s students physically active and healthy. They are with us almost the entire day. It’s not hard to imagine ways in which we can change their behaviors through modifying the learning environment. Already, great things are occurring around the country with the introduction of active transportation to and from school, and before school, during school, and after school physical activities. But starting today, all of us must get on this bus if we are to succeed. Each one of us has to be the catalyst for change. Impacting the behavior of 50 million people sounds daunting. It doesn’t need to be. Think about it at the school level. We are going to succeed one teacher and one school at a time. I invite and encourage you to be a part of this movement. These can be the best of times for the health and physical education professions.