Physical education is a regular part of most school curriculums. For adults, P.E. might conjure up images of running endless laps around a field, or perhaps the infamous kickball games.
For kids in Cheryl Parks' class at Lawton Elementary School, however, P.E. is more about activities like rock climbing, bowling and archery.
When I first walked into the P.E. area with the lights turned off, there were lanes set up for bowling with icicle-shaped lights strung between them, providing the atmosphere of a bowling alley. A rock-climbing wall and stacks of all kinds of equipment circled the small gymnasium.
Parks teaches what she calls a success-oriented model at Lawton - one that focuses more on the individual and her skill development, as well as student cooperation and teamwork; in this way, Parks places less empha-sis on student comparison and competition.
The success-oriented model also encourages lifetime health and fitness, and Parks - along with the school nurse - promotes this model through a monthly newsletter that goes out to students and parents.
This particular model is being implemented in less than 10 percent of Seattle schools, with Lawton being one of the flagship sites. Parks says she gets many students from the education program at Seattle Pacific University who come to help out, and even these students notice a difference between the success-oriented model and models being utilized at other schools.
Lawton K-5 students engage in myriad activities, all appropriate to their age level. Other examples, besides bowling, archery and rock climbing, include: yoga, dance, unicycling, basketball, roller skating, jump rope and circus arts.
Parks attempts to change the curriculum up every year to "keep it fresh" for her students.
During classes Parks also emphasizes cooperative games and work on individual skills. For example, if students play basketball, she focuses more on motor skills like dribbling rather than overall team competition. She also facilitates small-group interaction among students and works to integrate the P.E. curriculum with the student's entire workload across subjects.
The students keep portfolios in which they track their own progress through specified activities. Each student has a unique portfolio - they're allowed to choose the activities they most enjoy or feel they're good at. They regularly measure their performances and record the data in their portfolios.
Student portfolios emphasize individual success and self-improvement. "I don't push them to be the top scorer at school," Parks explains.
Parks says that she is dedicated to the students outside of the school day as well. She runs after-school clubs such as unicycling, jump rope and yoga. During summers, she provides summer camps.
Since time restraints that exist during the school year are relatively non-existent during summer vacation, it allows for more time to go hiking in Discovery Park or go swimming.
This is Park's 13th year teaching, all of them at Lawton. She says she was inspired to go into physical edu-cation by her grad-school P.E. teacher, who she adds was like a mentor to her.
Parks says it is important that she emphasizes that physical education is about having fun, not just work as is sometimes portrayed. She also points out that "health and fitness are important in all aspects of school," and adds that she helps her students understand this through classroom activities.
Parks remains humble about the success of her teaching program at Lawton, even though she's been honored for her accomplishments. Parks has received two awards: one in 2002 from the King Country Coalition for Physical Activity, and another from the Washington Coalition in 2005.
The awards are not what are most important to her, she says; Parks is simply passionate about what she teaches. Her passion translates her instructions for her students and, consequently, how her students respond to what she teaches them.
Parks says when parents come in and see what their children are doing, they say, "Wow, I never had P.E. like this."
"This is the best thing to hear from parents," Parks says.
Ashley Marshall is a Magnolia resident and freelance writer covering the Schools Beat for the News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org