SHERIDAN — Most grade school students in Wyoming receive less physical education than kids in other states, according to the first-ever statewide survey of its kind.

“To get a snapshot of Wyoming, we asked PE teachers to describe how many minutes a week they see their kids,” said University of Wyoming Division of Kinesiology and Health professor Ben D. Kern, who designed and distributed the Wyoming Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance survey.

“What this showed is that we are well below the national average in terms of offering physical education,” Kern said.

In March of 2021, the association administered the Wyoming Physical Education and Physical Activity Policy Survey to teachers across the state, and responses came in from 175 teachers, representing 36 of the state’s 47 school districts. The survey showed that overall, physical education classes are offered to elementary students roughly two times per week, well below the national average of 2.5 times per week; to middle schoolers on average 3.1 times per week; and to high school students 3.5 times per week.

This summer, independent of the UW study, the Wyoming Department of Education is collecting public input on the 2021 Wyoming Health Education Content and Performance Standards and the 2021 Physical Education Content and Performance Standards at the request of the State Board of Education.

Sheridan County School District No. 2’s Mitch Craft said that his district values health and physical education.

“We make PE and health a priority because we know that the well-being of our students is essential for their quality of life and lays a foundation for learning across the other content areas,” he said.

The Sheridan district is “happy that the state is revising the PE and health standards for Wyoming,” Craft said.

Meanwhile, UW’s Kern has helped to create the Wyoming Physical Education Teaching Collaborative, which offers PE and health teachers continuing professional development. The group has approximately 140 “collaborators,” he said.

Educators talk about “physical literacy” to describe what is considered the ability, the confidence and the desire to be physically active for one’s whole life.

“That is what we exist for,” Kern said, adding that students’ social and emotional learning often happens in physically active settings. Less than half of American adults meet daily recommendations for physical activity, though, and that represents a challenge for PE teachers across the nation.

“Nine out of the 10 top causes of death can be linked back to, at some level, sedentary behavior. We have to adjust to this,” Kern said.

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