By: Jabet Wheeler
In 1995, I got a job with the American Heart Association collecting donations and raising money for research and prevention. I didn’t do it because I believed so much in their mission as because I wanted to “live indoors, eat food, buy clothes”, etc…I needed a job and it was a solid organization with a good reputation. Along the way, during my 13 years in different capacities, I learned about the seriousness of heart disease, met families who were impacted and devastated by heart disease and stroke, and even had it creep into my own immediate family. This deeper understanding layered on the passion for the efforts as the years went by.
I also found that those afflicted with heart disease and stroke tended to stay in the shadows and not be as gregarious or stumping for the cause, as survivors of the other most common chronic diseases. Was it embarrassment because they “caused” their heart disease by not living a healthy lifestyle? Or maybe fear that they would lose their jobs because their disease had rendered them a weaker person? Were they concerned that there would be an increase in their insurance cost? All of these self-doubts were magnified for those who had multiple experiences and helped to keep the seriousness of heart disease and stroke less obvious and downplayed unless you were directly impacted.
For the last five years of my tenure with AHA, I worked in the “Youth Market” Division with my efforts specifically directed at, and for children. This is where it became obvious to me that preventing unhealthy habits in children before they start and teaching children about fitness and healthy lifestyles is a lot more effective approach than working to undo unhealthy habits in the older population (especially because as we grow older the habits, good or bad, become much more ingrained into our lives). That’s how I began “selling” the AHA’s youth programs, (Jump Rope for Heart™, Hoops for Heart™ and HeartWorks™), into school districts and PE Programs. In addition to the fundraising efforts embedded in those programs they also offered an academic component of promoting a life-long love of physical activity.
After the AHA’s Youth Market efforts and my understanding of youth health, it was an easy step to Focused Fitness and representing their programs, products and services to school districts across the U.S. I consider their unique philosophy of integrating fitness, health and nutrition academic concepts into every PE curriculum resource to be right on target…not only keeping student physically active, but also empowering them with the health knowledge they need to make better behavior decisions. This practice of including academic content right in with the lesson’s activities was dubbed “Content Fusion” by one of my customers and I love the phrase!
Some Physical Education Programs are not ready to take that step into Quality PE and have not yet embraced the idea that “Physical Education” is a curricular area and has the special ability not to just keep kids moving and active, but to teach them why it is important. The ideas and habits we instill in our children—especially when they are young—are the ones that will most likely stay with them long into adulthood. I think we need to take every opportunity to make sure we are sharing the “good” habits and explain the consequences so they can make their own knowledgeable choices.
To the Physical Educators who only want their students to play and their modus operandi is to develop the school’s best athletes, I say, “Please, hurry up and retire!” There are thousands of PE Teachers, newly trained in metacognitive academic and physical strategies, waiting to take your place, which would be the very best thing for those other 80% of your students who are sitting on the bench. I get so excited when I work with teachers and administrators who actually “get” the idea of QPE and take their responsibility to educate seriously. I only hope that my grandchildren are lucky enough to be guided by teachers and coaches who are not just worrying about their test scores or their athletic ability, but are teaching the whole child—mind, body and soul.
I am so appreciative of the AHA for giving me the foundation for understanding youth health challenges and best practices, and I am so thankful that I found a company to work for—Focused Fitness—that truly puts all of its efforts into doing what is right, but not always easy, for the benefit of our children’s current and long-term fitness and health.