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Virginia Journal of Education


Going for the Gold

PE competitions in a Prince William middle school spur academic success, as well as teamwork, school spirit and relationships.

By Joseph Murgo

Imagine a physical education class where language arts and math teachers are shooting baskets or kicking soccer balls with their students. At the same time, PE teachers are peppering students with Standards of Learning questions in history, math, science and language arts. Sound unlikely? Maybe, but that’s the team effort going on right now among the core academic teachers and PE teachers at Gainesville Middle School in Prince William County. 

We call it the Academic Championship Series (ACS). Every month, Gainesville students participate in competitions with their Academic Teams in an effort to build teamwork, school pride, friendships and rapport with each other and their teachers. Each Academic Team has a set of core teachers, and chooses their team name and color, which they wear to school on ACS day.

One of the ACS activities is called Four Corner soccer. We divide the gym into four sections, each with a goal, and give each team a section to defend. Six players from each of three teams play for three minutes, then rotate six new players are rotated in. If a team survives the three minutes without giving up a goal, it receives one point. If a team gives up a goal, they are eliminated from the game for that three-minute period. Why four goals and only three teams? That’s the fun part: The fourth goal is for the teachers who choose to participate. And what are the PE teachers doing? They’re asking SOL questions of the students who are waiting to rotate in, keeping score and doing commentary on the microphone. The excitement and noise level in the gymnasium really is a sight to see! 

Any sport or game can be modified for the ACS. The purpose is to have academic teams working together, SOL questions being answered, and students getting a workout, all without taking time away from academic classes. The PE department plans the competitions and holds them during regular PE class time. It’s truly the best of both worlds:  Students are exercising, strengthening their bodies and their academic skills, all while having a good time.

Teams get points in three ways: spirit (by wearing their team t-shirts); the physical competitions; and the number of correctly answered SOL questions. Each month, we change the games and the SOL questions. There are also other ways to earn points as a team. For example, points were awarded to the team from each grade level that brought in the most canned goods for “Operation Turkey” during Thanksgiving. This led to an increase of canned goods brought in by the students this year. 

The ACS competitions have united the students and staff at Gainesville in a unique way. Students enjoy seeing their core teachers participate in physical activity, and also enjoy having their PE teacher ask them a Civil War question. This shows students that the teachers are all working as one cohesive unit, setting the tone for the m to do the same thing with each other. Our school’s overall climate has always been great, but on ACS day it becomes something that has never been seen before. ACS has become so popular that students circle it on their calendars every month. The whole school buzzes over the competitions, including teachers, many of whom give up their planning time to participate. Academic teams form special bonds with each other and the cheering is so loud that it’s impossible to hear anything but the excitement.

We promote the competitions on a bulletin board in the cafeteria, updating team standings and posting information about the next ACS activity. When teachers and students are talking about strategies for floor hockey and studying for SOLs two weeks in advance, you know the concept is working. 

With our national childhood obesity rates on the rise, we need to promote fitness more than ever. These competitions allow students to participate in fun and exciting activities that promote better health, teamwork and school spirit. No students are left out; the entire school takes part. If a student doesn’t excel in athletics, he or she can still earn points for the team by showing spirit or by answering SOL questions. There is something for everyone to do.

Much of the school’s staff was skeptical when we presented this idea at the beginning of the school year, but after the first ACS day it became apparent that these competitions were truly going to build stronger relationships throughout the school. The feedback from classroom teachers has been tremendous, largely because of the PE department’s willingness to reinforce SOL objectives. This monthly event has generated nothing but positive vibes at Gainesville, and we’re working together to build wellness, school pride, teamwork and support of each other’s subject areas. It’s working for the whole community.

Murgo, a member of the Prince William Education Association, is the physical education department chair at Gainesville Middle School.



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