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Published May 03, 2013, 10:09 AM

Minnesota schools embrace new fitness program

ST. PAUL – Some Minnesota schools are embracing a new student fitness program designed to be a better gauge of overall health than the decades-old Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

By: Associated Press, INFORUM

ST. PAUL – Some Minnesota schools are embracing a new student fitness program designed to be a better gauge of overall health than the decades-old Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

Instead of measuring athletic feats, the new Presidential Physical Fitness Program shifts the focus to personal fitness gains for students.

The new test will still feature sprints, push-ups and pull-ups, but it also will take body fat and body mass measurements into account.

The goal is to put a more upbeat spin on fitness: Certificates and other awards recognize personal gains, instead of focusing on competition.

“It’s friendlier motivation for students who are less fit,” said Jack Olwell, a Farmington teacher and president of the Minnesota Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

One St. Paul school that has scored well in the old Presidential Physical Fitness Test is already taking that friendlier approach, thanks to physical education teacher Gene Parrish’s knack for firing up students at St. Thomas More Catholic School without judgment.

The test has been a staple at the school over the years.

Principal Brian Ragatz said it has helped cultivate a culture of fitness.

“This test provides clear expectations and guidelines,” Ragatz said, “and our school community has risen up to meet its challenge.”

Under Parrish’s watch, in seven of the past 10 years, St. Thomas More was the Minnesota school with the most students who score in the top 15 percent nationwide.

Students who pass the test get to swap their school uniforms for presidential state champion T-shirts on Fridays. Banners marking the school’s presidential test awards decorate the gym walls.

But Parrish takes that personal approach and works to recognize other students, too. He ordered special certificates for students who overcame hurdles such as asthma to make gains. He also has invited his son, former Minnesota Wild player Mark Parrish, to hang out with students without fanfare.

After the President’s Council on Fitness, Sport and Nutrition decided to retire the old test, Parrish said he dreaded telling students – because the challenges of the test had galvanized the student body.

But, he said, the changes won’t diminish the school’s commitment to wellness.

“Maybe there are more kids out there we can reach that way,” he said.

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