This is an excerpt from Elementary School Wellness Education With HKPropel Access by Matthew Cummiskey & Frances E. Cleland-Donnelly.
The future is not health education or physical education; it is wellness education. The goal of wellness education is to develop the knowledge and skills to practice wellness throughout the lifespan (Brewer et al., 2017). Health education and physical education have traditionally been taught as two separate and distinct subjects.
- Physical education exists in its own silo and principally teaches movement skills and fitness concepts in the gymnasium.
- Health education exists in its own silo and principally teaches content knowledge in a traditional classroom.
Yet adults aren’t concerned with these arbitrary distinctions; they simply want to be well in body, mind, and spirit. So, instead of teaching health-enhancing skills separately, they should be fused into a new style of instruction called school wellness education (SWE) (figure 1.1).
In doing so, students would be educated in a more holistic manner that includes components of both traditional health education and physical education. The key is to integrate health-enhancing knowledge and skills while also being physically active. For example, in a wellness education approach, students would learn about the cardiovascular system by creating a model of the heart from physical education equipment and then exploring and physically traveling through the model. Students are learning physical activity skills and health skills in the same lesson. This model of instruction engages students in active learning. Properly executed, a school wellness education program constantly challenges students to be moving and learning.
School wellness education is about more than just fusing health education and physical education content in the gymnasium. It incorporates an interdisciplinary approach to promoting comprehensive well-being through family, school, and community interventions. (CDC and ASCD, 2014)
The wellness educator is the cornerstone of this strategy. Their intent is to imbue students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to lead a healthy and physically active lifestyle that carries forward into adulthood.
Making the Case for School Wellness Education
In traditional health and physical education, content overlaps to the point it is difficult to discern where one subject ends and the other begins. Consider the lesson previously mentioned on the cardiovascular system. In traditional health education, one could expect the following topics:
- Structure (e.g., left ventricle, right semilunar valve)
- Pumping action
- Pulmonary and systemic circulation
- Common afflictions (e.g., heart attack, aneurysm)
- Risk factors
- Maintenance of health
Students in a traditional physical education setting might complete an aerobic capacity test such as the PACER, record their heart rates, measure step counts, calculate their target heart rate, and perform a series of activities designed to improve cardiovascular endurance.
In a single school wellness education lesson, the teacher can present the learning objectives simultaneously in a more coherent, holistic, and time-sensitive fashion. Imagine students creating an obstacle course based on the structures of the heart using PE equipment and collaborating to learn about heart structures. By moving through the course, students travel the same path as the blood, stopping at heart valves and changing speed to mimic the effects of physical activity. At the same time, students practice psychomotor skills such as leaping, jumping, and transfer of weight while moving (SHAPE Standard 1). At the conclusion of the lesson, the teacher discusses how effectively each group communicated and functioned as a team (SHAPE Standards 4 and 5). This combined approach more naturally approximates wellness, its dimensions, and the attributes toward which adults strive.
Traditional health education lessons are by their nature more sedentary. Students are seated in desks, the arrangement of which limits movement and open space for activities. Reducing sedentary behaviors and incorporating more physical activity has been shown to enhance academic performance (Michael et al., 2015; Donnelly et al., 2016). In the SWE approach, physical activity doesn’t come on a separate day in a separate location; it is part of every class. SWE lessons take place in the gymnasium, not a classroom. Students spread out and learn health-enhancing skills and physical activity skills simultaneously in an active, enjoyable, learning-focused format. There is no need for physical activity breaks because activity is germane to the design of each lesson plan.
The process of transitioning from a traditional approach to a robust SWE approach is achievable. This is important because the amount and quality of traditional health education varies tremendously. Many elementary schools hire teachers whose principal training is in physical education. They may have little or no training in traditional health education. Therefore, they lack the educational background critical to implementing school wellness education. According to the 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS), only 23.5 percent of elementary schools had a certified health educator teaching health education (CDC, 2015). In 65.6 percent of schools, the physical educator taught health education. It is likely therefore that the amount of health education taught at the elementary level is grossly insufficient. Many physical educators focus more on physical activity and fitness because of a lack of health education content knowledge and pedagogy. This tendency is heightened by the fact that only 38.5 percent of school districts require schools to assess student achievement of health education standards, and only 32 percent of districts have specific time requirements for health education. SWE can ameliorate these challenges by scaffolding health skills atop the best practices physical educators are already using.