Shaping Up

The physical education program at Tucson High Magnet School undergoes a healthy change.

The Depression-era gym at Tucson High Magnet School is showing its age, but as far as students are concerned, it's the school's phys ed program that's antiquated.

A small survey of students recently found them unenthusiastic about PE. The major complaint: they wanted to choose their own recreational activities during the required class.

The physical education program now used at Tucson High has been characterized as "a very traditional PE curriculum [that] bases achievement on attendance, participation (usually in competitive activities such as flag-football, softball and soccer), and 'dressing out' (wearing the PE uniform)." The result: a high percentage of students are bored with PE, with many skipping some sessions and a startling one-third of them receiving either a "D" or "F" for the entire class.

Teachers and parents have been working together to encourage students to participate in phys ed activities, landing a $180,000 federal grant to train PE instructors, purchase equipment and evaluate a new curriculum. The program is designed to encourage Tucson High students to be physically active for the rest of their lives, says grant writer Daniel McDonald, who hopes to see attendance and PE grades improve.

Administrators have already made some changes in the PE curriculum, with students flocking to dance and yoga classes. But they have only one ancient stationary bike and a typical assortment of weights in addition to standard PE equipment. The grant will provide funds for indoor cycling machines, treadmills, aerobic dance equipment and heart monitors.

But new equipment won't guarantee the success of the effort, says McDonald, who believes students must play a larger role in designing their own physical education activities. "We just can't feed them things," he says.

Football coach Gary Lewis, who will direct the project, hopes the new program will inspire students and "get them excited about fitness."

Tucson High Principal Larry McKee says additional federal money will be available over the next two years if gains are shown by June 30. But McKee remains concerned about the condition of the school's gymnasium. Although its rooms have been sandblasted and repainted--a "Band-aid" solution, according to McKee--it's the smallest gym in the Tucson Unified School District, even though it serves more than 2,600 students, the largest high school enrollment in TUSD.

On a recent tour of the facility, McKee pointed to numerous problem areas with the 1934-era gym, including cramped quarters, antiquated locker space, a lack of partitions in bathrooms and the use of closets as classrooms and offices.

McKee's biggest complaint: all-student assemblies can't be held in the gym since it is too small to hold all of them. While he appreciates the recently completed repair work, he thinks a lot more needs to be accomplished.

Members of a committee that reviewed the athletic facilities at each of TUSD's nine high schools last year reached the same conclusion. "The worst facility is the Tucson High [Magnet] School Gymnasium and we believe it needs to be demolished and rebuilt," says committee member Eddie Leon.

A report on the future of the gym submitted earlier this year by attorney John O'Dowd, co-chair of the high school's Office of Civil Rights/Desegregation Sub-Committee, partially concurred, concluding that millions of dollars should be spent because "a major renovation of the facility has been needed for several decades." To finance these improvements, the report recommended the use of school district desegregation capital monies.

Instead, O'Dowd says, the district has budgeted those funds for projects at schools which are not under court order concerning desegregation. As far as the Tucson High gymnasium goes, says O'Dowd, "a greater disparity in facilities does not exist in TUSD and remedy of the disparity should have the highest priority."

The TUSD board isn't contemplating that prospect. Instead, while high school officials were hoping for $2 million to $3 million from the Arizona State School Facilities Board to make needed improvements to the gym in the near future, they'll have to settle for less than $1 million. Those funds will pay to convert at least some of the building from swamp cooling to air-conditioning, refinish the elderly wood floor and repair the roof.

Along with the revised physical education curriculum, the building upgrades are a step toward improving Tucson High's PE program. If nothing else, the changes may leave more students crouching in a yoga position instead of ditching class.