"Kids Aren't Well-Rounded; They're Just...Rounded"
An Exclusive Interview with Richard Simmons about His Campaign for P.E. in Schools
Tank top, striped shorts and all, Richard Simmons is becoming a force to be reckoned with in Washington's education policy debate. He has mounted a major campaign to get physical education into the schools and has caught the attention of key policymakers on Capitol Hill.
Amidst all this activity, he recently found time to talk me about his goals, the dire need for physical education and his frustration with the glacial pace of reform in Washington during an election year.
Richard told me about his advocacy for the FIT Kids Act, which would establish a framework for schools to closely look at the quality and quantity of PE they are providing, and to supply parents with that information to better understand the PE their kids are receiving.
He makes no secret of his impatience with the current presidential contest, characterizing it as a political circus that drowns out calls to address the real crisis in children's health and fitness.
His own ideas for reform:
- Carve out real time in school for physical activity. The FIT Kids Act sets a goal of 150 minutes/week in elementary school and 225 minutes/week in high school.
- Enlist Certified Aerobic instructors to help P.E. teachers offer excellent physical education.
- Ensure that P.E. classes include warm up, cardio, strength training and stretching. Just hitting a ball or running around a field won't cut it anymore.
- Get kids moving to the music they love.
Calling himself "the black sheep of the fitness world," Simmons speculates that people won't take him seriously. His record so far belies that fear. He has taken his campaign to the major networks, inspired thousands of calls and emails to congressional offices, made more legislative progress than many professional advocacy organizations could even hope for, and inspired respectful coverage of his ideas from normally wonky organizations like Education Week and Education Sector.
Listen to some excerpts:
Transcript of Interview Highlights:
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Tell me more about your campaign.
SIMMONS: Well, I started to see a big difference in my e‑mails and my letters. So many told us that parents were worried about their kids, that parents did not know how to motivate their kids at home to exercise, because the majority of the parents are not motivated to exercise. Some of them had no idea what PE their kids were taking, and I said, "This is a major problem." This was a year and a half ago.
Then we made friends with Congressman Wamp. We flew to Washington, and I was in a suit, and I looked like I was going to a bar mitzvah. And Wamp dropped a bill there. It metamorphosed into the Fit Kids Act, which-instead of saying to the schools, "You've got to get PE back in the schools,"-[is] saying, "As a multiple measure, we want you to add physical activity there."
Now, 2008, it's all about "Who's gonna win, my god, is it Hillary or Obama-or McCain? You're going through all this and you know right now they're not looking at No Child Left Behind for reauthorization-They're not looking at [putting] PE back in the school systems.
That's why my next grouping of press will reach out to the remaining presidential candidates and tell them they have got to, got to, got to start talking about PE in our school systems. Because no one should be walking in the Oval Office unless they have a plan to get our kids healthy and fit. This has got to be a priority.
'Cause here's the thing. What happens if No Child Left Behind is not reauthorized before the next president? It just sits there. Now we're talking almost a year. This is another year of no physical activity for our children-it's another year where they're being taken to the doctors and health care is going through the roof. It's really...The whole thing is, to me, shocking.
You take the kids and you ask them what they want to do. They're watching High School Musical, they're watching dance. They own the music charts. When I go to schools, I teach cardio and strength training and toning. Claus, and they love it. I play their music, their beat, and they love it. And I know, after I finish teaching, that child has had a complete workout and maybe never a workout like that in their lives.
As I've said, the kids are in school more than they are any place else, and that's where they should get their physical activity, to make sure every kid is well-rounded. And now we've just found out that they're just-rounded.
When you take away all the other things that make the personality of a child, you're taking away their well-roundedness...[their ability to] have social skills with other kids and to just play and have a little fun on a day that is filled with pressure.
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Well, do you have any parting messages, then, for the Learning First-
SIMMONS: Do I have any parting messages!?
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: (Laughing)
SIMMONS: To all of us-the NEA, the PTA, the NASBE, the AFT, the PRO, the PE, the-what do I say? I say, let's join together. Let's all have a conference. Let's put our cards on the table. Let's look at the future of our children. Let's go down in history for bringing back self-worth and self-esteem and health to our children through the education of the United States of America.
And I'm here. I'm not going away. The little tank top and shorts ain't going away. I'm going to get something in the schools.
Photo courtesy of Richard Simmons
Post updated July 27, 2011
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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