The popular PEP grant program has allowed hundreds of school districts to re-energize P.E. programs with new equipment and specialized training.
By Michael Popke, January 2008
Tim McCord was bored. The year was 1999, and after two decades as a physical education teacher at Titusville (Pa.) Middle School — where classes revolved around a traditional curriculum of football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and softball and track and field in the spring — he was looking for a challenge, something to re-energize his department, his students and himself.
"I'd been doing the same things for about 20 years at that time, and I could have continued to do them standing on my head," says McCord, now chair of the physical education department for the Titusville Area School District. "I thought, 'Is it really our job to teach these kids sports skills? Or is it our job to teach them how to live healthy lives?' "
To find the answer, McCord requested permission from the district's superintendent to take a field trip to Naperville, Ill., where students at Central High School were among the first in the country to participate in physical education classes that actually improved more than their ball-handling skills. There, he saw instructors incorporating high-tech fitness equipment and detailed health-risk assessments into everyday P.E. classes.
No longer bored, McCord returned to Titusville — a small and economically stressed community in which half of all students at the time were eligible for free or reduced school-lunch programs — and shared his findings with the school board. The next thing he knew, McCord was handed a check for $30,000 (10 times the district's entire physical education budget that year) to revamp the middle school's P.E. department with cardiovascular-fitness and strength-training equipment, along with plenty of heart-rate monitors. With the following year came another check, this one for $40,000 to replicate the middle school's program at Titusville High School. One year later, the district gave McCord an additional $10,000 to purchase fitness-assessment machines for both schools.
Then, in 2003, the district was awarded $342,000 from the federal government in the form of a Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant, which funded repairs and upgrades to existing equipment, added climbing or traversing walls at every school in the district, and expanded overall P.E. programming. Then came the clincher: The high school's principal rearranged for the daily schedule to expand from eight classes to nine, shifting periods from 43 minutes to 40 and making room for daily P.E. sessions.
"All I did was explain to our school board that our physical education program was going nowhere," McCord says. "Now I don't think our kids understand how good they have it."