Saturday, January 24, 2004
Kindergartner Ashley Wilson gingerly stepped onto the smooth, cold surface of Howelsen Ice Arena last week, dressed more for the slopes than the rink.
Decked from head to toe in her purple snowsuit, accentuated with red gloves and a black helmet, Ashley slowly moved counterclockwise over the ice, hand in hand with eighth-grader Whitney Ott.
It began as more of an ice walk than an ice skate, but by the end of the hour, Ashley was skating a little easier and, judging by her smile, definitely having more fun. Her skating coach for the afternoon was there for her all the while, be it lending a steady hand or providing a helpful bit of advise.
Jocelyne Hillmuth couldn't have been happier.
Hillmuth, hired this fall by the Christian Heritage School as a part-time physical education teacher, has completely revamped the school's P.E. program, taking it from what was described by Principal Tim Calkins as "glorified recess" to a structured educational program for students.
"Prior to this year, we really didn't have someone on staff who was trained in physical education," Calkins said last week. "(Hillmuth) has brought a lot more expertise in terms of what we're doing."
Physical education is often the first program to be cut by schools during times of budget crises, Calkins said. But numerous studies identifying American children as having the highest prevalence of obesity in the world should be an indication of the importance of physical education.
"You read a lot of the health issues today about Americans who have grown up on Big Macs, and I'm one of them," Calkins said. "The P.E. program is vital, and it's unfortunately one of the things that often gets cut when budget decisions must be made."
Hillmuth, who possesses a physical education degree, has taught P.E. for nine years, mostly in Canada.
For her, physical education is about providing children lifetime skills and activities, not just a fun game to play after lunch.
Ice skating, Hillmuth said, is a low-impact activity that is inexpensive and can burn a lot of calories. Christian Heritage School students also have learned to play soccer, football and volleyball since the school year began.
Each unit focuses not just on playing the game but also on learning the rules of each sport, which Hillmuth said allows children who may not be athletically gifted to appreciate each sport for its uniqueness and style. Teaching them the rules and philosophies behind the sports also may pique an interest in coaching or refereeing.
And Hillmuth is teaching students more than just sports.
The school's third- and fourth-graders are learning to take their pulses and understand what cholesterol and heart rates are and their significance to health issues.
Seventh- and eighth-graders used a fall orienteering unit to learn the basic workings of a compass, and they used that knowledge during a trip to Hahn's Peak, where they canoed and hiked while searching for "treasure." The treasure hunt went hand in hand with an English unit the students did on the book "Treasure Island."
All of the school's elementary students are participating in the ice skating unit. Seventh- and eighth-graders accompanied kindergartners and first-graders last week as part of Hillmuth's effort to teach the older kids how to coach. The students devoted a couple of lesson periods to learning the basics of coaching and also learned how to teach basic techniques of skating to the younger children.
Seeing students such as Whitney Ott and Ashley Wilson work together Wednesday at the ice arena made Hillmuth smile.
"They really stepped up to the plate, took the preparation seriously and nailed it," Hillmuth said of her coaches-in-training. "It was pretty awesome to see some of these kids shine in a coaching role."
The kids enjoyed it, too.
"Their attitude is the best part about it," eighth-grader Ott said of the kindergartners and first-graders. "They're so willing to learn. And they're not scared of anything so they go out and just do it."