December 2, 2013

Motivation key at Augusta’s Cony High physical education class

Competitive sports that rewarded athletes and left others feeling awkward have been replaced at many schools with activities that promote teamwork.

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — There’s a lot of cheering in P.E. 2.

click image to enlarge

COMING DOWN: Cony High School students help a classmate descend from the catwalk at the school’s rope course in Augusta. The physical education class emphasizes cooperation instead of competition.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Additional Photos Below

Students clap when their classmates successfully walk from tree to tree across a swinging log. When someone loses their balance and steps off onto the ground, they get encouragement: “Take it slow. That’s all right.”

Elsewhere on the Cony High School ropes course, students egg on their classmates to tackle the trapeze.

One day in September, sophomore Cierra Harding launched herself, screaming, from a platform 25 feet off the ground, toward a trapeze bar hanging several feet above and in front of her. She missed.

A student belayer halted her fall, and Harding slumped in her harness, exclaiming, “Oh my God, that was so scary!”

“That was so awesome,” said a student watching from the ground, clapping.

“All you have to do is catch it one time,” P.E. teacher Tom Hinds told Harding.

“I know,” she said. “I will next time.”

P.E. 2 involves movement, and agility and balance are useful, but it’s not really a workout. Instead, it’s intended to help students develop confidence, discover their strengths beyond the physical ones and learn how to communicate and solve problems within a team.

The class is part of a long-term movement in physical education that de-emphasizes calisthenics, competition and, to some extent, team sports, in favor of alternative activities, development of workforce skills and grading students on their individual effort or progress.

“I think very traditional physical education was a great place for athletes or people who had some genetic predisposition to athletic ability, and everybody else hated it,” said Cheryl Richardson, an official of the American Alliance For Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. “That obviously is not the environment that we are trying for now. Now we’re trying to motivate and inspire. If they hate P.E., they may not choose to be active outside of P.E. class.”

Some teachers may still use the Presidential Physical Fitness Test — with its sometimes daunting standards for things like number of push-ups and time for a mile run — but this year it was replaced by the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, which focuses on health rather than on athletic performance.

Skowhegan Area High School teacher Soren Siren said he spent more time on traditional team sports when he started teaching 20 years ago. Now he modifies the sports or teaches outdoor activities to keep the kids moving during class and give them skills that will transfer to life beyond school.

During the basketball unit, for example, you won’t find two teams of five playing while everyone else is on the sidelines. Instead everyone’s involved, playing variations of the game such as around the world on the gym’s six hoops.

With the help of the New Balance Foundation, the school has also been able to purchase equipment for outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, mountain biking and geocaching, which Siren said keep the students more engaged.

“You can’t make kids do anything today. I’ll have kids look at me and flat-out say, ‘I’m not running,’” Siren said. “If I take them snowshoeing and we walk two miles, I personally think I’ve gotten more out of them than if I sat there and was on the track having them run a mile.”

The setting and emphasis of Cony’s P.E. 2 are unusual even among nontraditional P.E. classes.

Hinds said the rope course was built and the class started about 20 years ago.

“The No. 1 reason why people lost their jobs in America at that time was the ability to work with other people,” he said.

All students at Cony take both P.E. 1 and P.E. 2.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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HELPING HANDS: Cony High School student Noah Guerrette is carried through ropes on the spider pull earlier this year at the school’s rope course in Augusta. The physical education class emphasizes cooperation instead of competition.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy


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