Texas educators find regular exercise improves school attendance and grades.
(KVEO) Kids who exercise regularly do better in school, attend more classes, score higher in tests and feel better about themselves. All of that is according to studies, experts and teachers themselves.
Rosbel Pena is a two-time teacher of the year in the Mission ISD. He's been an educator for more than two decades, and now teaches sixth grade math at Alton Memorial Junior High School.
"I teach kids of all kinds, and I notice the ones that are athletically fit, and they like to do athletics and sports, they tend to be more alert and active in class," Pena said. "And for the most part, they do seem to be more academically excelling."
Alton Memorial has PE for its students everyday. The state of Texas doesn't require daily physical education. Instead, the state leaves it up to local school districts to decide how much time kids are active during the day.
Texas doesn't even mandate daily recess. The only stipulation is that kids are active two to three hours a week.
The McAllen ISD is hoping to lead the pack in physical education. The school district is getting $2 million from federal government and various other grants. It's using the funds to hire more PE teachers, buy new equipment and feed students healthy snacks throughout the day.
Jackson Elementary in McAllen is using some grant money to repaint its blacktop with new basketball lines and areas for hopskotch and foursquare.
"There's a lot of evidence that shows movement grows brain cells," said Mario Reyna, the health and PE coordinator for McAllen ISD. "Teachers are being encouraged to move their kids around in the classroom because movement does a lot for the brain. The evidence is clearly there."
PE is no longer about dodgeball, tiny shorts and climbing ropes. Simply moving and having fun seems to be the key at young ages.
A projector at Roosevelt Elementary in McAllen encourages students to show off their dance moves and burn calories before returning to the classroom.
"You feel strong, smart," said Summer Sanchez, a second grader at Roosevelt. "Really smart."
Belinda Jordan is the bariatrician at the Renaissance Bariatric and Metabolic Institute in Edinburg. She also taught elementary school before putting on the white coat.
"When people exercise, their bodies release natural hormones called endorphins," Jordan said. "And those endorphins make them feel good. Especially for children, it's a way of stress relieving, a way of helping them concentrate more. I think that overall it's helpful in their studies."
Jordan says if she were putting together a PE curriculum, she would have the kids exercise later in the day, so they can burn off the sugar and calories from lunch. They can then return to class energetic and ready to learn.
Pena sees the benefits first hand in his class.
"Our kids get to go outside and unleash their energy," Pena said. "When they come back after lunch, they're very energetic. And they're alert. Sometimes you think it's the afternoon, they're going to be tired, but they are alert."
A national study found Texas to be one of the 12 states with a high obesity rate, at more than 30 percent. Another ranking, by the National Education Association, says that the state is 49th in the U.S. in spending per public school student.
Last year, Texas high schoolers matched the state's lowest SAT scores in more than a decade.
While making sure our children get regular, vigorous exercise will not fix all of these problems, education researchers are now unanimous that it would be a step toward a brighter future.