Case Studies of Three Schools Exemplifying Wellness and Lifetime Fitness Models
Peters, Randal E.
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Problem. Despite awareness and advocacy for benefits of wellness practices, sedentary lifestyles and worsening nutritional practices are contributing to early signs of heart disease, diabetes, and an epidemic of obesity in school-aged children. Meanwhile, physical education, historically one of the most readily available outlets for physical activity, has been marginalized in the wake of legislation mandating accountability for higher achievement in core academic areas. There is a dearth of information in the literature about innovative alternatives to the traditional physical education model. Procedures. This qualitative case study examines purposefully chosen, exemplary school wellness models in an elementary, middle, and high school setting. The central research question explored which practices were being implemented in exemplary settings to meet the wellness needs of students and staff. The initial phase of research was guided by subquestions focused on environment, program origins, best practices, and evidence of success, while analytical and interpretive questions were applied to determine common themes and challenges faced by each site. Instrumentation for gathering data included a total of 32 on-site interviews with school administrators, teachers, and community members, as well as direct program observation and analysis of over 50 documents pertaining to the three sites. Data from multiple sources were taped, transcribed, coded, and analyzed for patterns and themes. Findings. Ten common themes emerged. They included: markedly similar environments, emphasis on choice-based, individualized lifetime fitness activities, and a dedication to development of the whole individual. Additionally, program growth was accelerated by extensive and creative use of school and community partnerships, as well as prioritization of instructional technology and a culture of accountability driven by research and data. These practices are linked to evidence of success at each site, including improved student health indicators and fewer incidents of truancy and other negative behaviors. Finally, schools involved in the study have shown improved academic achievement, which is consistent with emerging research showing that fitness enhances learning capacity. However, the sites share concerns about sustainability related to continuity of leadership, resource costs, systemic programming, and longitudinal evidence of success. Conclusions. Responsibility for the ongoing decline in the health of our young people must be shared by education, government, healthcare, and business institutions, as well as parents and families. By synthesizing the collective best practices of the three cases, a comprehensive model of sustainable wellness was developed to inform practice, ensure accountability, and provide a template for further research in this area.
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