Thomas L. McKenzie, Ph.D., is SPARK Co-Founder (1989) and Professor Emeritus, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University (tmckenzi@sdsu.edu)

David Kahan, Ph.D., is Professor and Associate Director, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University (dkahan@sdsu.edu)

Regardless of level or type, most schools have websites that are functional and readily accessible to the public. Thus, they are important vehicles by which schools can share relevant information about their physical activity programs, policies, and values. Because websites can be modified quite readily, information posted on them can be updated regularly (including daily) and it can be targeted to reach specific audiences (e.g., a single class, grade level, team; families; prospective students and families; community members; and other constituents). Additionally, with circumstances of COVID-19 being so highly variable, the use of school websites to provide information that is current is especially important.

During the past two years we have done systematic, line-by-line, analyses of the physical activity and physical education (PE) content that was posted on nearly 4,000 public charter, private, and Jewish day school websites in the United States. In general, we found that schools mentioned their physical activity programs infrequently, and when mentioned, the information typically lacked detail. Compared to other school programs where students could accrue health-promoting moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), (e.g., recess, intramurals, interscholastics, and before- and after-school recreation programs), PE was mentioned most often. Nonetheless, the schools rarely provided comprehensive information about the objectives and curricular content of their PE programs, lesson frequency and duration, and the specialty qualifications of their instructors. Overall, the information we collected varied tremendously from school to school, with private schools more likely than public schools to mention PE, that they had interscholastic sports and other extracurricular programs, and that they employed a PE specialist.

We view websites as public ‘windows’ into what a school deems to be important. Thus, we believe websites are critical assets for providing relevant and up-to-date information (especially when compared to brochures, mailers, and handouts). Thus, we encourage schools at all levels and types to examine their websites and to assess the messages they may or may not be providing about physical activity and about PE policies and practices. We think school websites should be individualized to especially target the students and the communities they serve. With this in mind, our list below identifies some potentially relevant topics/sections for local website designers to consider.

Presentation matters! Thus, we suggest showcasing pertinent information in attention-grabbing formats such as shown in the example below for a hypothetical elementary school:

1. Overall

-The important contribution of physical activity engagement to students’ health and their physical, emotional, and cognitive development.

-The relationship between physical activity engagement at school and students’ fitness levels and academic achievement.

-National physical activity recommendations.

-How the school supports/includes diverse physical activity programs (e.g., as recommended by the Centers of Disease Control and Comprehensive physical Activity Programs).

-How parents/guardians can help support children accrue recommended MVPA (e.g., create safe activity settings, provide active toys/equipment, prompt and reward activity engagement, participate with their children and model physical activity engagement themselves).

2. Physical Education Programs

-How the school PE program aligns with both state and district guidelines for quantity and quality.

-Posting the national, state, and district physical education standards.

-Which curriculum (e.g. SPARK) is being implemented, including its goals, how it was validated, and how lessons vary among grades and class levels. https://sparkpe.org/what-is-spark/

-Information about policies related to attendance, dress, grading, homework, locker room, and participation

3. Other Physical Activity Programs

-Specific information on programs such as active transportation (i.e., “walking” school bus, biking to school), recess, intramurals, interscholastics, and leisure time opportunities before and after school (e.g., scheduling, costs, eligibility requirements).

4. Management

-How to access updated information on currently operating programs (e.g., for last minute cancellations).

-How to obtain additional program information (e.g., emails, phone numbers).

-Credentials of school staff that support their ability to implement PE and other programs.

-How to contribute (e.g., volunteer, make donations) in order to support physical activity programs and facilities.

Stay tuned to SPARK for more information and resources to SPARK Up Your School Website!

SELECTED REFERENCES

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). CDC Healthy Schools, Physical Education and Physical Activity. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/index.htm
  2. Kahan, D., McKenzie, T. L., & Khatri, A. (2019). U.S. charter schools neglect promoting physical activity: Content analysis of nationally representative elementary school websites. Preventive Medicine Reports, 14, Article 100815. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.01.019
  3. Kahan, D., & McKenzie, T. L. (2019). California districts and schools underutilize websites to demonstrate compliance to a physical education lawsuit. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 89, 712-719. https://doi.org/10.1080/02701367.2019.1623855  
  4. Kahan, D., & McKenzie, T. L. (2019). Physical education and physical activity policies as described on California charter school websites. Health Behavior and Policy Review, 6(5), 509-521. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14485/HBPR.6.5.9
  5. Kahan, D., & McKenzie, T. L. (2020). School websites: A physical education and physical activity content analysis. Journal of School Health, 90(1), 47-55. Article DOI: 10.1111/josh.12851
  6. Kahan, D., & McKenzie, T. L. (2020). Website representations of physical education and physical activity: Comparison of public charter and private schools. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. Online July 13.DOI: 1080/02701367.2020.1761934