Spotlight on Curriculum: Physical Education

Mens sana in corpore sano - A healthy body equals a healthy mind is not a new idea, but it is the reason that Physical Education, or P.E., is an essential part of the curriculum at Grace. Bodies are meant to move, and at any point in the day, on both campuses, students are running, jumping, climbing, stretching and having fun playing games and sports. “The goal is to have students value and live a healthy and physically active lifestyle after they graduate,” describes Illi Armijos, Director of Athletics and High School P.E. “To do that, we have to start right when they begin school.”
In the youngest grades, junior kindergarten through second grade, P.E. classes are movement- and skills-based. Teachers scaffold skill building. For example, students will start with kickball because kids have more success kicking a round ball than batting a baseball or softball. Since students are not focusing on being able to kick or hit the ball, teachers are free to teach the rules of the game. This allows kids to play games that require more skills as they develop. Uniquely, classes in these grades meet in both small sections and as a whole class. This gives students an opportunity to learn skills and techniques with a lot of support from a teacher, as well as to compete in big games as an entire class.
Beginning in third grade and continuing through the early years of middle school, P.E. instruction moves to a sport-ed model, a method of P.E. instruction organized around team sports that utilizes seasons instead of units, peer-to-peer leadership and instruction, and formal competitions. Students begin learning strategies and tactics of complex games, but teachers de-emphasize winning and losing in order to focus on building foundational skills. The sport-ed model also encourages community building because students work together in big groups toward common goals. Many of the sports taught at this level are commonly played in the United States, but the curriculum also includes time for students to learn less familiar sports like cricket and rugby along with the accompanying customs and history.
At the end of middle school, P.E. classes continue to use the sport-ed model, but students are also introduced to individual fitness classes as a bridge to the high school program. With the opening of the gym, seventh and eighth grade students now take P.E. at the Cooper Square campus, providing expanded P.E. options, including use of the fitness room.
In high school, students have a menu of choices in P.E., ranging from classes that use the sport-ed model to adult fitness classes like yoga, Pilates, spinning and weight-training. According to Ms. Armijos, classes emphasize hydration, nutrition, flexibility and general fitness. “We want Phys Ed to be something that students look forward to doing rather than something they are obliged to do. We want students to have a passion for movement.”
High School students may choose to take P.E. classes mornings from 8-9 a.m., during the two-hour lunch period, or after school. The schedule is deliberately flexible to work with students’ other interests, like early morning Latin classes or extracurriculars like Science Olympiad or Model U.N. Players on Junior Varsity or Varsity teams do not take P.E. during the season they play, which gives those student-athletes time back for academics.
As part of a regular department evaluation process, the combined P.E. and Athletics departments conducted a year-long self-study in the 2017-18 school year. The process helps to identify strengths and yielded recommendations for improvement, most of which have already been accomplished or are underway (see sidebar).
To guide both departments, they created a new statement of philosophy. . Chante Stone, Physical Education Chair Grades JK-8 described it as “the driving force behind what we do… a way to ensure that there is continuity throughout the program.”
With the biggest component in place—the completion of the gym at Cooper Square—the most aspirational program improvements could be realized. With seventh and eighth graders now taking P.E. at Cooper Square, the demand for the gym at Fourth Avenue has lessened, which has had a cascading effect from sixth grade all the way to Junior Kindergarten. This means more P.E. classes and recess periods have moved from Tuttle Hall to the gym, opening that space for performing arts.
Two new faculty members were also added to the program. The new Lower School Sports program, an extension of the Athletics Department, added a director, who also teaches P.E. in the grade school to cover the expanded P.E. classes. A full-time athletic trainer was added both to strengthen athletics but also to support all students in staying healthy and avoiding injury. The trainer works one-on-one with students during the times that P.E. is offered and after school to address specific injuries or improve overall fitness. With a robust team of teachers, the P.E. department is helping students develop healthy habits for a lifetime.

Seven Self-Study Recommendations
  1. Hire a certified athletic trainer – FINISHED
  2. Launch an after-school sports program for Lower School Students – FINISHED
  3. Develop a schedule that maximizes the cascading benefits of the new gym – FINISHED
  4. Continue to expand the variety of HS P.E. offerings – IN PROGRESS
  5. Use the new space and equipment more effectively to teach athletic skills – IN PROGRESS
  6. Expand the preseason coaches’ orientation, giving consideration to the addition of a second day - FINISHED
  7. Continue exploring the ways the department can further the anti-racist aspirations of the school – IN PROGRESS