By Jeff Keeling
A pack of grade school kids ran, threw and jumped for joy Monday afternoon on the green lawn of South Side Elementary. Who knew their activities were all about literacy?
Few people are unaware of the critical importance of a third grader being able to read on grade level, but East Tennessee State University’s Dr. Andy Dotterweich is concerned with a different kind of child literacy: the physical kind.
The associate professor in ETSU’s exercise and sport science department is also the de facto leader of community outreach efforts at the Center for Excellence in Sport Science and Coach Education. This spring, he is leading partnerships at South Side Elementary and Kingsport’s Roosevelt Elementary that are bringing ETSU faculty, staff and students into those schools once a week, where they work with the PE teachers to help kids become “physically literate.”
The basis for the work is U.S. Track and Field’s “Run, Jump, Throw” program. At Roosevelt, the ETSU partners come into the PE classes on Fridays. The South Side program is a voluntary after-school one that’s drawing up to 50 or 60 kids on Monday afternoons for an hour spent having fun, but learning the proper movements for those skills.
“These are part of those fundamental skills we need to make kids physically literate,” Dotterweich said, noting that bad habits can lead to injury in athletes. For those not highly inclined toward sport, he added, a lack of familiarity with proper methods for physical activity make it less likely they’ll continue to hike, cycle, or do other activities recreationally later in life.
“The goal from an athletic standpoint is to develop some elite talent,” Dotterweich said in reference to the Center’s “long-term athlete development program.”
“But from a non-athletic standpoint, the goal is actually to get 100 percent of your population able to physically do any kind of activity for the rest of their lifespan.
“The nicest part of this approach is, everybody else who’s not interested in high-level participation in one sport, maybe wants to try a different sport or maybe don’t like sports at all – they’re physically literate. If they just want to do hiking, biking, swimming, whatever, they can do that more enjoyably and with less injury risk because they’re physically literate.”
Kids have many options these days, and many of them involve little to no physical activity, Dotterweich said. But in this Olympic year, and with ETSU’s Center also an official Olympic Training site, the participating children are hearing from Dotterweich and company that they’re learning the same drills as Olympians who will vie for gold on TV later this year.
The PE teachers, Jamie Scott at South Side and Rebecca Good at Roosevelt, are hooked too, he said.
“They have been incredibly receptive. They recognize the same issues we recognize. They only get one shot with this kid, for 30 minutes to an hour, once a week. They would like to have them every day.
“Physical activity levels and obesity levels in Tennessee are horrible,” he said. “This is a way to address those issues and counteract them. We get more engaged citizens and we give them skills to continue to remain healthy for the rest of their lives.”
While plenty of ETSU representatives have turned out for the two programs, Dotterweich said he hopes to meet up with all of the area’s PE instructors, do some in-service training with them on the Run, Jump, Throw curriculum, and see it implemented as widely as possible.
“What we’re doing is not something that’s better than what they could do,” he said. “It’s just supplementing, and a complement to what they do, teaching skills from a track and field base that they’re teaching in their PE classes.
“This is just another opportunity to reinforce those skills.”