Thursday, November 18, 2010

Springfield's "Director of Wellness"

Coleen Walsh, Director of Physical Education, Health and Family and Consumer Sciences for Springfield Public Schools, says that the job could better be described as "Director of Wellness." Walsh's job takes her to 46 different buildings and ranges from dietary sciences to child development, from physical education to health instruction, and more. She supervises teachers, writes curriculum, and works with the community. She is a member of the Mayor's committee on teen pregnancy. What is more, Walsh is always aware of the general needs of the district, as the academic progress and physical health of students are inextricable.
Her current project focuses on getting students to be more physically active throughout the school day. She is piloting a national program called Playworks, which began in 1996 in California, and currently holds a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to expand to 650 additional schools and 27 cities by 2012. It aims to use recess as a productive time to help kids become more physically healthy and to encourage positive interactions rather than the all-too-frequent conflicts that break out during this open time.
Springfield Public Schools will pilot the program for one week, targeting Level 4 schools as the first potential sites for Playworks. Walsh emphasizes the need for such a program because of the limited time students have for both recess and Physical Education (PE). They are allotted 15 minutes per day for recess, and approximately 45 minutes per week for PE. In larger schools, students must rotate in order to attend gym class. In most cases, one teacher provides both PE and Health classes for the entire school. With a program like Playworks, however, students would receive the structured physical activity of gym class every day at recess, and sometimes during class as well.
Walsh began her own career as a physical education teacher, and then moved on to become a Health Resource teacher, traveling to all Springfield schools. She then moved on to supervise Health Education and Family Consumer Sciences, also serving as a liaison with nursing services of the Public Health Department.
Over the past 36 years, Walsh has become intimately aware of the challenges facing not only students but health and PE teachers as well. She believes deeply in the need for a well-rounded curriculum that involves Health, PE, Art, and Music instruction. She also knows that teachers have a mere 200 minutes each week for these subjects, and foreign languages, combined.
Most discussions around the state of education in the US focus on reading and math scores, and, Walsh points out, test scores prevail in the discussion of reform. However, she says, "The message is starting to come around." Research supports the belief that students who eat well and exercise regularly are much more focused during instructional time for core subjects. Playworks is a leading program in this body of research, featured in 2007 by the Harvard Family Research Project. (For more information on Playworks, see
Another program integrating academic goals with athletics is Project Coach, for which Walsh has recommended a number of PE teachers (including her own son, who is the new Track Instructor for the program). Walsh hopes to help PC provide course credit to High School coaches, an effort that is in its early stages of development. "Project Coach helps to show kids a future," she says.

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