Editorial: New emphasis on physical education, forestry, are steps in right direction

Regular readers of this page have likely noticed that we strongly support providing our community’s schoolchildren with practical education for life, as well as the three R’s.

It should be obvious to anyone with eyes that poverty is not diminishing in Sweet Home. The effects of the shutdown of the Willamette National Forest to timber harvesting 25 years ago have unquestionably impacted our community generationally in education, health, social mobility, economically and other areas.

Other than the arrival of some kind of industrial opportunity that would spur economic turnaround, our schools are one of the best instruments at our disposal to combat poverty’s effects.

And given the realities of this situation, we see “practical” education as integral to giving our children a chance to get a leg up.

By “practical” education, we mean developing knowledge and skills that will help young people grow up to be productive, responsible, socially well-adjusted adults who can contribute to their community in positive ways, to give them a vision for what can happen outside of the world of poverty.

We know we aren’t original here. The school district’s mission statement proclaims the goal of providing students “the opportunity to discover the knowledge and skills necessary to reach their full potential in a changing world.”

Given all this, we think the district’s on the right track in a couple of regards.

We like the tack we’re seeing in the school budget we reported on in our May 17 edition and, on page 8 of this issue, plans for developing a real forestry program.

What’s exciting about the 2017-18 school budget is the inclusion of nearly three full-time P.E. Teachers for the grade school levels – a critical move.

Why is P.E. important? We think it’s particularly vital in today’s society, in which technology has reduced many of us to couch potatoes – to put it delicately.

Why is it that track and field and cross-country, probably the most accessible to the disadvantaged of any sports offered at the high school, have declined significantly in Sweet Home in the last five years? Granted, there are more than one reason – coaching changes, increased interest in other sports, the normal cycles that impact any athletic program.

But we wonder if the lack of systemic P.E. in our elementary schools isn’t a major contributor.

If Mom and Dad aren’t doing anything to teach the youngsters what it feels like to be active, if they don’t have a genetic or circumstantial incentive to do so, they won’t. Recess alone doesn’t cut it, and despite efforts in some schools to fill the gap with other staffers, when we look at the numbers of kids out for track this season at schools significantly smaller than Sweet Home, which have fielded teams double the size of ours, it’s clear something’s been amiss.

Track, we think, is a good indicator of the general attitude toward exercise, toward trying new things, toward extending one’s comfort zone. Other than the fee to participate, the only think a kid needs to participate in track or cross-country is a pair of shoes and enough nerve to try it. The rewards are personal improvement – every faster time or higher mark is a win.

Anybody can do track.

And it’s not just these sports. We’ve heard, in recent years, from coaches in a variety of sports that it seems harder now to get students to come out for athletics. It takes more recruiting, more arm-twisting, they say, to maintain the numbers.

This isn’t about winning championships, though that would be nice. It’s about health. It’s about getting off our derriéres and learning to be active, productive citizens.

Similarly, we congratulate the superintendent and the board for re-instituting the five-day school week.

Again, certain students may not be particularly affected by longer school days and an extra day to sleep in, but what kind of a message did we deliver to students who might not be getting a lot of motivation at home – if they even have one – about learning to be responsible and proactive in use of time?

We’re also enthusiastic that the district is beginning to take steps toward putting a greater emphasis on education in areas that will be practical to many graduates who may not be inclined to go on to college.

The institution of a true forestry program is long overdue and should we welcomed with great enthusiasm by the local forest products industry.

We’ve often wondered why it was left up to an enterprising teacher, who’s also the head football coach, to invest his own time into forming and sustaining a Forestry Club to meet this need.

Here we are in one of the more productive timber resource regions of the state, thanks to the Hill Family, Weyerhaeuser, and other local landowners, but our high school doesn’t even offer formal training in the types of skills teens need to fill well-paying jobs that are, as one local logging firm owner makes clear in our report, readily available? It doesn’t make sense.

Thankfully, again due to leadership within the school district, that may be about to change. If it does, the change should be permanent.

We’ve written before, many times, about the need for more than just the three R’s in our schools. The quality of life in our entire community will improve if young people get motivated to test themselves, to try new things, to prepare themselves for more than life on the welfare rolls.

Even the accomplished students quoted in our story on page one about this year’s graduating class leaders, almost to an individual, say they wish they’d tried more things in high school and advise new students to have no fear.

Our schools are a major component in addressing – no, fighting – poverty in our community.

These steps being taken by the school district are key to that effort, we think.