The Other 60 Percent

Schools track student fitness with Fitnessgram

Physical education students at Aurora Central High School do push-ups as part of their Fitnessgram assessment tests last month.

Seventeen-year-old Christian Quintero’s 56 laps of the 20-meter “track” set up in the gym at Aurora Central High School might not qualify him for star athlete status, but it does mean his cardiovascular endurance is approaching the healthy zone for a young man his age.

What’s more, it’s tangible evidence that his weight lifting and running regimen is having an affect. In January, he could only do 43 laps before getting so winded he had to stop.

“I’m walking to school more, too,” said Quintero, who pronounced himself pleased with his performance, and vowed to continue his workouts.

Meanwhile, classmate Jonathan Ruiz’s 36 pushups mark him as having exceptional upper body strength. “It’s the bench press and triceps extensions I’ve been doing,” said Ruiz, 14. In January, he could do only 30.

The boys and their P.E. classmates have tracked their fitness progress using Fitnessgram, a fitness assessment and reporting program for youth developed in Texas nearly 30 years ago, but spreading rapidly through Colorado schools in the past few years. The program uses a variety of fitness tests –  including a 20-meter shuttle run, skin fold test, curl-ups, push-ups and a sit-and-reach test – that assess body composition, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and muscular strength and endurance. Individuals can then compare their scores to age- and gender-weighted standards based on levels of fitness needed for good health.

It looks a lot like the older Presidential Physical Fitness Award Program, which was introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 and is still around, though today’s it’s called the President’s Challenge. But unlike the Presidential program, which is a competitive assessment that honors students whose fitness scores are in the 85th percentile or better, Fitnessgram participants compete only against themselves.

The computerized software program provides individualized printouts for each student, whether he or she is in the so-called “Healthy Fitness Zone,” and how those scores have changed over time.

It’s one of the most research-based fitness assessments there is,” said Clayton Ellis, Aurora Central’s physical education teacher – and the American Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance 2010 National High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year.

Aurora Central student Matthew Gordon, 16, does the sit-and-reach test of flexibility in his physical education class under the direction of student teacher Clint Naegel.

Aurora Public Schools adopted Fitnessgram assessment program three years ago when it approved a new physical education curriculum, and the district is committed to assessing and tracking every elementary and middle school student twice yearly, starting in third grade. High school students are assessed four times yearly in their required P.E. classes.

Unfortunately, the district doesn’t yet have the capability to export individual scores from one school to another. So they can’t track a student’s progress all the way through elementary to middle to high school, but Ellis believes it’s just a matter of time before that’s possible.

“Somebody has that data someplace, and our research and assessment department is looking to create a spreadsheet so we could store that data and track at the district level according to a student’s identification number,” he said.

Aurora has the best-established tracking program, but around the state, numerous school districts are moving in that direction, said Terry Jones, senior consultant for health and physical education for the Colorado Department of Education. And most are adopting Fitnessgram, even as fewer and fewer participate in the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge.

“I don’t have an exact number of districts who are doing this, since there’s no state mandate for this, but we’re seeing a definite increase, though it’s not above 50 percent yet,” Jones said. “The problem with the President’s Physical Fitness Award is that it measures students’ ability against the entire country. We don’t want to encourage that. We want to see them improve their individual levels, to help them make goals to increase their own fitness levels rather than compare themselves to everybody else.

“Because competition doesn’t help the students that need the most intervention. If they just see themselves at the low end of the bell curve, they won’t work to improve as much as someone who just wants to make himself healthy.”

Denver Public Schools has been using Fitnessgram in its middle schools for five years, and recently obtained a grant to add the program into all its elementary schools by 2013. It went into the first 29 elementary schools this year, will go into 29 more next year and 30 more the following year.

“The reason we have to phase it in is because the site license is $350 per school, so we want to make sure the money is there to support those schools now using it and those that will be using it,” said Eric Larson, physical education coordinator for DPS.

Larson said he recently met with P.E. teachers who got the Fitnessgram program this year, and it received largely positive comments.

“The one thing they really like is the feedback to the students, and how the students can create their own fitness goals,” he said. “If they’re already in their healthy fitness zone, they’re asking themselves how they can improve. When they look at that printout, and see their scores, it encourages them.

“The President’s Challenge emphasizes students that perform well. The high achievers get those patches. But Fitnessgram is more in tune with students who are overweight, who don’t perform well. There’s still encouragement for those students.”

In the Yampa Valley, Shawn Baumgartner, boys’ PE teacher for Hayden Middle and High Schools, switched to Fitnessgram this month, after years of using the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge. The program was provided through a grant from LiveWell Northwest Colorado.

“We’re excited about this because of the feedback we can give the kids,” said Baumgartner. “It doesn’t say ‘You need to do this to rank at a national level.’ It says ‘Here’s what you need to do to be in a healthy fitness zone, and here’s how we can help you achieve that.’ It lets them enter their own data and they’re learning a life skill for when they leave here. They’re learning to self-monitor.”

Baumgartner expects to have the program implemented for all students in grades 3-12 by next school year.

For more information

Click here to see Fitnessgram standards for boys and girls, ages 5 to 17+.

Click here to see the qualifying standards for the Presidential Challenge.

Watch a video of Aurora Central High School students participating in a variety of Fitnessgram tests.

Enrichment gap

Here’s which Denver students lose out on summer enrichment

PHOTO: Hero Images | Getty Images

Denver’s black students, followed by Hispanic students have the lowest access to summer camps and classes while students with the best access are more likely to be white and higher-income, and have college-educated parents, according to a study released this fall.

Conducted by researchers from the University of Washington, the study builds on research that finds children in more affluent families are more likely to enjoy summer enrichment activities, such as visits to museums, historical sites, concerts or plays. Some scholars call it the “shadow education system.”

Two staff members from the Seattle-based Center on Reinventing Publication, a partner in the analysis, wrote in a blog post that there’s been much attention to achievement gaps and gaps in access to high-quality schools, but little talk of enrichment gaps.

“This research is the first step that cities can take to better understand the enrichment gaps that exist between student groups,” they wrote. “The next step is finding solutions to help fill the gaps.”

The study, a working paper that has not been peer-reviewed, used data from a searchable online database of summer programs created by ReSchool Colorado, originally a project of the Donnell Kay Foundation and now a stand-alone nonprofit organization.

A look at the study’s color-coded maps shows a red streak of neighborhoods across central and northwest Denver with high access to summer programming. Blue low-access neighborhoods are clumped in northeast Denver and southwest Denver. Among them are the heavily Hispanic neighborhoods of Mar Lee, Ruby Hill and Westwood, near the city’s border with Jefferson County. At the other end of the city, Montbello and Gateway-Green Valley Ranch — and more affluent, mostly-white Stapleton — are among neighborhoods designated as having low access to summer programs and large child populations.

In addition to differences based on race and income, the researchers found that low access areas of Denver had more English language learners and that residents were less likely than in high-access neighborhoods to have been born in the U.S.

While the study found that summer programs, especially sports programs, are not evenly distributed around Denver, it revealed that parks and libraries are. The researchers recommended that policy-makers use those public spaces to more evenly distribute summer programs. It also suggested that until community leaders create those additional programs in low-access neighborhoods, families be given bus passes or ride-service vouchers to help them travel to programs outside their neighborhoods.


Denver school board pledges to make sure LGBTQ students are ‘seen, accepted, and celebrated’

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Ellie Ozbayrak, 4, sports rainbow wings at the annual PrideFest celebration at Civic Center Park June 18, 2016.

In response to reports that the Trump administration may seek to narrowly define gender as a condition determined by genitalia at birth, the Denver school board Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution in support of transgender students and staff members.

“The board, with its community members and partners, find this federal action to be cruel and harmful to our students and employees,” the resolution said. Denver Public Schools “will not allow our students, staff, and families to feel that they are being erased.”

The Trump administration has not yet made a final decision. But the threat of reversing actions taken under the Obama administration to recognize transgender Americans has prompted protests across the country, including a recent walkout at Denver’s North High School.

Several Denver students thanked the school board Thursday for the resolution, which says the board “wholeheartedly embraces DPS’s LGBTQ+ students, employees, and community members for the diversity they bring to our schools and workplaces, and strives to ensure that they are seen, accepted, and celebrated for who they truly are.”

“It is amazing to hear each and every single one of your ‘ayes,’” said a student named Skyler.

The resolution lists several ways the district supports transgender students and staff, including not requiring them “to undertake any expensive formal legal process to change their names in DPS student or personnel records” and honoring their pronoun preferences.

Read the entire resolution below.