Evanston Township High School’s physical education department wants to see its classes counted toward students’ weighted grade point averages as the current policy sends the message that exercise is not important.
PE classes are the only classes at ETHS that are not counted in students’ grade point averages, according to Shirley Nannini, department chair.
"I really think the current policy is sending a subtle message to students that [PE] doesn’t count," she said.
"If we’re telling them this is recess, I don’t know how you get students to put effective effort in. That is essentially what this policy is saying. I think it sends the wrong message."
Childhood obesity is one of the most prevalent health issues in the nation. Approximately 11 million children are overweight, and an additional 13 million are at risk for being overweight, according to the American Heart Association web site.
"I have been here 30 years and in the time I’ve been here [PE] hasn’t been part of the weighted GPA," Ms. Nannini said during Tuesday night’s board meeting. "I think physical education for a lot of years was its own worst enemy. Why it hasn’t changed up to this point I’m not sure, but we hope we can begin to change that tonight."
If PE was counted, most students would see an increase in their GPA if they received a high grade. However, students who are ranked at the top of the class may see a slight decrease in their GPA because there are no AP or honors PE Offerings.
"If you are a very strong student with a high rank, it is going to slightly depress your GPA, but it will everyone else as well," said Laura Cooper, assistant superintendent. "In fact it does mean that our strongest students will be under pressure to get an A in PE as well as in other things, and when that happens there isn’t an impact on rank."
But board member Rachel Hayman feels that there is already too much pressure on students to get A’s.
"My only concern is our students are under a ton of academic pressure, and I would just prefer that the motivation to excel in PE come from the fun they have in the class than to be driven by one more ‘Gah I gotta get that A,’" she said.
In an effort to improve the curriculum, the PE department has broadened the course offerings, added fitness activities in all courses, improved fitness facilities and equipment, and developed a health-related fitness assessment that will be administered each semester.
"We need to help them [students] learn how to be healthy," said board member Missy Fleming.
"I think that’s another emphasis. You’re not talking about making everybody an athlete, but I think you are talking about helping everyone learn how to select an activity that is meaningful to them and provides some sort of cardiovascular health."
The grading policy for PE has also changed. Instead of being graded on fitness level and skills, students are now graded on effort and improvement.
"I’m here on behalf of all the department chairs here at ETHS. We are very much in support of the proposal to count PE in GPA," said Shelley Gates, department chair for Applied Sciences and Technologies.
"I think what really struck all of us are the changes that have been made in the curriculum–the focus that’s on the effort that students put in. I think that’s very compelling."
The ETHS staff issued two memos expressing their support of this initiative and about 15 faculty members attended Tuesday night’s meeting.
"I think another very important component is that we have asked students to do more work physically, to do more work in the classroom, as well as to take work home," said Bruce Romain, associate principal. "And so students are doing more work yet they are not getting the rewards for doing that work."
Board member Omar Khuri wholeheartedly supports the initiative.
"I think that the benefits that are going to be derived and the motivation that the students are going to receive far, far outweighs any detriment," he said. "Students’ effort and their work is compensated by their grades that’s how they get paid, and I think it’s unfair of us to make them work in gym for free."
Other board members were concerned about how parents and students would respond to this initiative.
"I don’t think we should just drop this on parents without their input," said board member Margaret Lurie.
The board administration will solicit input from students and parents and hopefully report back to the board at its next meeting.
If the policy is approved, it would be implemented with next year’s freshmen class.