Moving with Purpose: Physical Education at the High School

~ Kim Hopper with John Jackson, HS Math and PE Faculty

Like other subjects at the high school, the physical education/movement program works to support students’ growth and development and deepen their understanding of themselves and their place in the world. It’s an integrated approach in which the value of movement goes well beyond our culture’s emphasis on exercise.

Of course, exercise and fresh air are an essential part of the school day, and our students get plenty of these. Through movement, students can also deepen their understanding of the curriculum, and explore their physical body in space and in relation to others in the community, and work toward integration of the body and mind. This is no easy task in our sit-down, technology-driven day and age, even for many adults, but it is a vital thread throughout the curriculum.

Practically speaking, the high school has defined opportunities during the school day for sports and games, and rhythm and dance. Students also participate in eurythmy and in outdoor education excursions, from kayaking to a Senior Quest. Finally, and somewhat unique to Waldorf education, are opportunities for kinesthetic learning of the subject matter at hand.

Take for example, the ninth grade interdisciplinary study of the Pacific Rim. Not only do students in Mr. Wong’s class spend time at Ocean Beach reflecting on their Pacific environment, they explore Shinto ceremony and rituals and the origins and movement of sumo wrestling. In tenth grade, the Classic World block integrates study of The Odyssey and Ancient Greece with practice in discus, shot put, javelin, and some Greco-Roman wrestling. Our eleventh grade students read Parzival, the 13th-century epic poem, and discuss the warrior training and ethic of Arthurian knights. Main Lesson begins outside as students explore the motion of a spear through the air. With practice, a student may experience the path and trajectory of the object in space, beginning with full extension the arm behind the body, and the sense that the flight of the spear originates in the infinite periphery. Ideally, the muscles are used for acceleration along a continuing path, as the thrower learns to honor the movement. (This exercise may also inform the class study of projective geometry.)

In physical education classes, ninth and tenth graders participate in various dance instruction and learn sports skills such as soccer and basketball, among others. These sports classes emphasize skill development and agility in a cooperative atmosphere. Certainly, many of our students are fully and successfully engaged in competitive athletics inside and outside of the high school. Those with high skills levels impressively direct their gifts toward supporting the group, reserving competitive aspects of sports for after school matches.

In the eleventh and twelth grades, students may select from an array of physical education electives, including volleyball, soccer, hockey, tennis, yoga, rock climbing (at Planet Granite), and swing dance. It is the objective of the program, and the goal of the teachers, that by the time students leave, they will have developed an appreciation for movement and a love of a particular activity that can be independently sustained.