PlayStation generation needs to get fit

More than two-thirds of San Francisco school children aren’t fit enough to pass all of the state’s fitness tests, according to the latest results from an annual state exam of fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade students.

Scores for the San Francisco Unified School District show slight improvements in some areas of the six-part test and are on par with the rest of the state, but local educators and California officials alike said the meager gains are far from the goal — to train children to live a healthy life outside of physical education classes.

Scores released Thursday by the California Department of Education showed that the San Francisco Unified School District improved for all three tested grades this year in the aerobic capacity test, which includes a one-mile run and a progressive running exercise. In The City’s public schools, 61.4 percent of fifth-graders, 65.4 percent of seventh-graders and 54.2 of high school freshman passed the aerobic portion of the test.

According to the state superintendent, the aerobic endurance test is considered the most important of all the categories because recent research determined that heart health may have more of an impact on reducing health problems than body fat.

Michelle Zapata, who took over San Francisco Unified’s physical fitness curriculum in January 2005, said she has had teachers focus on low-performing areas such as aerobic fitness by having students run the mile more often.

In addition to aerobic capacity, the students are tested in five other categories: body fat, abdominal strength, trunk extension strength, upper-body strength and flexibility. Of all the students in the three grades that took the test, 32.1 percent passed all six tests, which included such exercises as sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and stretches.

Zapata said the biggest problem is that many children get their only exercise during physical education class. In California, elementary schools are only required to instruct 200 minutes every 10 days and secondary schools are required to instruct 400 minutes every 10 days.

“If we’re going to get all these kids fit, it’s going to take a lot more than class time,” she said. “It takes a whole community and we have to look outside to make sure that children have multiple activities to keep fit.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell also said there was a lot of room for improvement.

“While I’m pleased that these numbers are moving in the right direction, this annual fitness test serves as an important reminder to all of us that the majority of our students are not in good physical shape,” he said.

bbegin@examiner.com

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