Education World India interview with SPARK Executive Director Paul Rosengard


Bala Bhagavat, CEO of Education World India, recently sat down with SPARK’s very own Paul Rosengard to talk about the state of Physical Education in the US and around the world:

Bala: “Why is a structured PE and sports important in the school environment when US and Canadian cities have lot of free open playgrounds and parks for children and families?”

Paul: “This is an opportunity to differentiate physical activity (PA) and physical education (PE).  Young people need PA and unstructured play time, and the open playgrounds, parks, and other environments that you cite, enable and encourage PA, and thus, are vitally important.

Young people also need structured time in PE (taught by a properly credentialed and well-trained instructor) which is typically unavailable anywhere beyond the school setting.  PE is based on specific standards and benchmarks usually linked to age and grade level, and presented through sequential and progressive building blocks of compelling content and differentiated instruction.

PA is a component of PE however, studies show not all PE classes provide enough PA (insufficient frequency, duration, or intensity) to positively impact a child’s health.  Therefore, it should not be presumed that providing PE also provides adequate PA.  PE classes should be monitored to ensure students are engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at least 50% of class time.

Habits of wellness, particularly around behavior change techniques, are critical to teach young people so they can learn to be responsible for their own health (self-management) and understand how to maintain acceptable levels of PA throughout their lifetimes.

There is lot of PE and sports curriculum and lesson plans available on the web. Can a school use these as part of their formal curriculum?

There are and it’s terrific to have supplemental resources.  We encourage people to screen optional content before using by asking themselves if the activity is:

  • S =Safe:  Emotionally and physically?
  • E = Enjoyable
  • A = Active
  • D = Developmentally appropriate:  Aligned with standards, age, grade level?

These criteria are simple.  “Nurture the SEAD” and provide children with activity opportunities that are rich and relevant.

On-line, free activities should not be considered a worthy substitute or adequate replacement for research and standards based curriculum written in scope and sequence.  Rather it should be considered a supplemental addendum. “

Bala: “There seems to be shortage of Physical education teachers worldwide. Why do you think it is? What are the consequences? How do we address this problem?”

Paul: “Most people believe it’s a lack of money – although I’m not sure it’s a money problem entirely.  Perhaps it’s a priority problem?  There is money in any budget, however small and impacted it may be.  Ultimately, every budget I a pie that has to be divided.  My contention is that PE deserves a slice; maybe not the biggest slice, but it should be funded at the level of any other core subject.  Physical education is the only discipline that supports every content area – because the data strongly show that healthy kids are better learners.

Drawing the direct link between PA, quality PE, and academic learning is one way to garner support.  Another is to link PA and PE to healthcare costs.  A third is daily attendance.  There is strong data to show that healthier and more fit kids miss less school.  Schools often receive funds based (in part) by the numbers of students that attend each day (ADA = Average Daily Attendance).  Improving ADA means more money for education.”

Bala: “What in your opinion changes year to year that require a PE teacher to take refresher courses regularly?”

Paul: “My colleague Dr. Thom McKenzie says, ‘Professional development is not an inoculation, it’s a flu shot.’  It must be done regularly over time and teachers should be constantly driven to improve their craft.  There are skills to attain and polish and it does not matter if a teacher is relatively new or a veteran of many years.  Additionally, there is always new content, new approaches, and new technologies that can improve content and instruction.  Systematic professional development should also be linked to specific learning and performance objectives and teacher evaluations.  What is assessed is done.”

Bala: “How did SPARK PE manage to reach 10,000 schools?”

Paul: “Actually, we typically sell approx.. 12,000-19,000 curriculum manuals annually and train over 20,000 teachers in the U.S. alone.  We’re certain we’ve conducted full day (or more) workshops for well over 100,000 teachers since 1989.  How many schools that’s been we’re uncertain.  Moving SPARK from 8 schools in the original research study to where we are today is a combination of many factors, but the one I’ll cite is we’ve been fortunate to develop a team of passionate content experts, teacher trainers, and support staff and we’re very proud of everyone that helps us improve the health of kids everyday – our team and the teams of educators we have the pleasure of working with.  This moves beyond the U.S. and we’re particularly grateful to our friends in India who are helping us achieve our dream of SPARKing up more kids around the world.”

Bala: “What is your view on physical education and schools in India?”

Paul: “I wish I had first-hand experience at schools there to watch the children and view their teachers.  From what I understand, they have done an excellent job of adhering to SPARK protocols — and that’s reassuring.  We feel strongly that if teachers instruct SPARK the way we wrote it and use the instructional strategies we’ve developed, their children will be more active, fit, skilled, and enjoy PE more than traditional approaches.  Fidelity is key, and our friends in India who are running point on SPARK dissemination there have developed very systematic and monitored methodologies that foster fidelity.  Their strategies are enabling positive student health-related outcomes, and that makes me very happy and grateful for their efforts.”