Blog: The Power of Innovation in Shifting the PE Narrative

By: Howell Wechsler

Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and a national expert on childhood obesity, having previously served as the Director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Along with representatives from Nike, American Heart Association and Target, Howell represents the Alliance for a Healthier Generation as an expert judge for the National Fitness Foundation and DonorsChoose.org Physical Education (PE) Innovation Challenge. As a judge, Howell will be reviewing the innovative projects submitted by physical educators across the country. Learn more about the Challenge here

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When the National Fitness Foundation and DonorsChoose.org asked me to serve as an expert judge for their fundraising challenge focused on lifting up the innovative work of physical educators, I was thrilled to bring the Alliance for a Healthier Generation on board. I think the single most important thing we can do to gain support for innovative PE is to identify the best practitioners and do everything in our power to ensure that key decision makers and opinion shapers get to witness their classes in person. This type of impact is exactly what opportunities like the PE Innovation Challenge can accomplish. 

Both the National Fitness Foundation and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation are committed to improving the health of our nation’s youth. With the Foundation’s Presidential Youth Fitness Program and the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program, we have collaborated on several initiatives to provide the necessary tools and resources to PE programs and physical educators nationwide. We do this because we know that even though there is growing public awareness that obesity is a major problem and that young people need more physical activity, support for school PE programs is still lacking. In a competitive school environment where time is limited, physical educators are faced with teaching abbreviated class periods in overcrowded gymnasiums. And when it comes to receiving administration attention and high-quality professional development, physical educators are often left with the short end of the stick.

These limitations are why innovation in PE is desperately needed. Innovative ideas can grab the attention of the public and decision-makers so that our country can reach a healthier and more active future, not a future that is filled with tens of millions of young people eventually developing chronic disease before they have the chance to reach their full potential and health care costs that could devastate our capacity to compete in the global economy.

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As an expert judge for the PE Innovation Challenge, I can’t wait to learn about the creative ways schools are teaching PE and to work with the winning physical educators in sharing these strategies with the thousands of schools enrolled in our Healthy Schools Program network. From time limitations to lack of student engagement, insight from the winning projects have the potential to help us overcome the persistent barriers and stereotypes that have limited PE, and can lead us to a better understanding how students from all backgrounds can learn to embrace and love a physically active lifestyle.

To date, the PE Innovation Challenge has already fully funded over 300 projects. The Challenge submission deadline is December 31 and the judging panel, alongside the National Fitness Foundation and DonorsChoose.org, encourage even more innovative physical educators to submit their ideas and help spread the word to their communities. The amazing work of physical educators deserves to be honored and the PE Innovation Challenge is an opportunity to show the country – and decision-makers – just how good today’s PE can be.