A new healthy living curriculum developed by the Health and PE department - inspired by their work on the Wellness Committee and the latest science.
Gym class isn’t just about dodgeball any more. The health and physical education (PE) teachers at Unionville High School feel strongly that they are teaching students wellness fundamentals to last them their whole lives. UCFSD Health and PE teachers across the district introduce grit, mindfulness, and balance to students through significant changes to their respective health and PE curricula this year. At the high school, it all starts Freshman year learning how to exchange a proper “bro hug!”
Several years ago, the high school Health and PE teachers noticed community concern about student stress levels and destructive behavior choices, and they felt uniquely positioned to positively influence changes to this trend. They were aware of organizations such as Outward Bound which “apply the principles of a curriculum that places equal emphasis on development of character, leadership ,and a sense of service with intellectual studies.”1 Outward Bound started because of a perceived lack of grit in young British sailors at the beginning of WWII, evidenced by higher mortality rate among young sailors vs older (ostensibly physically weaker) sailors in crisis situations. Simply speaking, the younger sailors gave up more easily and drowned more readily than their older, grittier counterparts. This concept of teaching students toughness in a natural environment combined with teaching mindfulness for general stress management informed the new curriculum designed by UHS Health and PE teachers.
The program teaches students to strive for balance in their lives in regard to different dimensions of wellness, including physical, emotional, intellectual, social, environmental, and sense of self / connection to others. Traditional health and physical education topics still exist, alongside bigger picture concepts such as building community among the Freshmen and learning mindfulness in addition to traditional health; focusing on individual strength and conditioning Sophomore year; and leaving room to branch out to individual interests Junior and Senior years.
The 9th grade PE curriculum focuses on building community, connection, and achievement through activity. The department recognizes that forming common bonds within a group of people increases group members’ acceptance of each other, minimizing negative behavior such as bullying and harassment. Joe Herman kicks off Freshman year gym class by helping students learn “grown up” ways of interacting and making sure they have fun in the process – hand shaking, “bro-hugging,” and practicing conversation skills. At another point in the year, they play an African card game called “Ubuntu” which translates to “I am what I am because of who we all are” – meaning we all impact each other every day – so be mindful and purposeful with interactions. And throughout the course, they learn teamwork and leadership skills on the team challenge course.
Buddy Meredith teaches 10th grade lifelong fitness, helping students find the tools they need to start and maintain a fitness program. Students learn to work to a target heart rate and utilize exercise heart monitors. He also focuses on the importance of clear communication with fellow students and connects with his students in their badminton unit by jumping in and playing the game with them. He says “when we are engaged with the kids, that makes it easier for them to get involved.”
Mandi Quinn teaches 9th grade Wellness 1, Team Building and Leadership, and Introduction to Yoga. In the Yoga course, she guides students through traditional poses using breath and movement, as well as teaching muscular anatomy and important concepts like mindfulness and stress management. In her work with the team challenge course, she tries to help students recognize how to apply their personal strengths to leadership opportunities. Her goal is to produce mentors who can share their knowledge with middle and elementary school students through creative channels still in definition.
Drew Moister has been thinking about creating a sports science class for years and is teaching the new class for the first time this year. This course offers an alternative health class for students who are interested in “medicine, sports medicine, personal training, physical therapy, and biomechanics,” but still includes fundamentals such as CPR and first aid training / certification.
All the teachers have great ideas around how to bring mentoring from older to younger students within the district. Drew guides his older students through the process of creating little “how to” videos to share with elementary aged students in our district, such as modeling how to defuse bullying behavior for elementary students and even school-appropriate ways to walk up and down stairs for kindergarteners.
The UCFSD Health and PE teachers’ collective goal to build grit, resilience, and a sense of self and purpose in their students generated a curriculum that will prepare them for life after Unionville. These teachers, K-12, agreed on common language around what they call their “full value contract” that defines gym and health class behavior from grades K-12: be safe, be open, and be present. What a great guide for our students - and for us!