For the first time in more than 30 years, Urbana elementary schools will have dedicated, certified physical education teachers in their buildings this fall.
Urbana school board members voted unanimously Monday night to approve the proposal, submitted by the administration, to hire seven new physical education teachers. The seven full-time teachers will cost the district an estimated $350,000 a year.
The result: Urbana elementary students will have two sessions per week taught by a licensed PE professional. For the past 30-plus years, physical education was taught in Urbana elementaries once per week, by classroom teachers. The elementary PE teacher support was cut in 1982.
Parents such as Thomas Paine PTA President Katie Madigan were ecstatic with the result, and are confident the district can start the program this fall.
“It’s definitely down to the wire since there’s only three weeks until school starts,” Madigan said. “But I am convinced the administration in Urbana will hire very competent teachers.”
Madigan said the lack of dedicated PE teachers in the district has been a major concern since her daughter started kindergarten. Through her own research, Madigan found that as of last year, Urbana was the only district in Champaign County without PE teachers at the elementary level, and one of only two districts among six counties in East Central Illinois.
According to the district, Urbana was also the only school in the Big 12 athletic conference – which stretches from Peoria to Danville – not to have dedicated elementary PE teachers.
The district administration put together a task force of administrators and teachers to evaluate the subject, and it made a formal request to the Board of Education for approval.
A presentation by the task force documented the unintended consequences of the lack of dedicated PE curriculum with certified PE teachers.
They included comments from secondary PE teachers/coaches that incoming students have little background in basic motor skills, teamwork, and sportsmanship skills; and students lack core, upper body, and cardiovascular strength, and exhibit poor flexibility. An Urbana Middle School teacher was quoted as saying “6th graders are coming to us with the physical skills and stamina of 6-year-olds.”
Parents also had the opportunity to weigh in via surveys, and many indicated their concerns. Madigan led a vocal campaign of parents in support of the measure, which included direct appeals to the board, a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, and rallying her fellow parents.
“It’s important to advocate for what you believe in, loudly and proudly,” Madigan said. “If you do it in a constructive manner, people will respond to you.”