County kids besting state at fitness

San Mateo County students were fitter this year than last year and outstripped students across California when it came to a battery of physical-fitness tests administered by the state each year.

California fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders are tested each year in six areas: aerobic capacity, percentage of body fat, abdominal strength, trunk strength and endurance, upper-body strength and endurance as well as overall flexibility. Kids are categorized as “needs improvement” or being in the “healthy fitness zone” based on how well they do and whether they’re fit in all six categories.

Locally, 36.6 percent of San Mateo County fifth-graders met all six fitness criteria in the 2006-07 school year, up from 32.3 percent in 2005-06. Seventh-graders also improved, from 37.3 percent last year to 41.7 percent, while ninth-graders rose from 35.8 percent to 35.9 percent, according to data released by the California Department of Education on Thursday.

Across the state, 27.1 percent of fifth-graders met all six criteria, as did 30.9 percent of seventh-graders and 30.1 percent of ninth-graders.

“While I’m pleased that these numbers are moving in the right direction, this annual fitness test serves as an important reminderthat the majority of our students are not in good physical shape,” said Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction.

One local district that boasts exceptionally fit kids is Burlingame Elementary, where 64.6 of its fifth-graders met all fitness benchmarks, and 92.3 percent of fifth-graders and 89.5 percent of seventh-graders proved to be in good aerobic shape.

“We’re lucky to have a [fundraising] foundation that supports our K-5 physical education program,” said Sonny De Marto, superintendent of the Burlingame district. In addition, district schools offer courses that teach students how to eat right, and a parent-advisory committee oversees the district’s hot-lunch program.

Other districts, such as San Bruno Park Elementary, are struggling: 27.6 percent of its fifth-graders met all six fitness criteria this year.

“The daily life of kids is now different,” San Bruno Superintendent David Hutt said. “There are more sedentary activities, and unless a child has access to AYSO or recreation programs, they may wind up not being active,”

County officials say that fitness is also good for the students’ academic performance.

“We know that if they’re healthy, fit, well-rested, well-fed and get enjoyment out of exercise, they do better in school,” said Peter Burchyns, spokesman for the San Mateo County Office of Education.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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