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A physical education in Naperville

While physical education has been drastically cut back across the country — in response to budget concerns and test score pressures — Naperville Central High School, in the Chicago suburbs, has embraced a culture of fitness: PE is a daily, graded requirement. And for one group of struggling students, there’s an innovative program to schedule PE right before their most challenging classes. In the six years since that program started, students who signed up for PE directly before English read on average a half year ahead of those who didn’t, and students who took PE before math showed dramatic improvement in their standardized tests.

Watch more segments from Need to Know’s special education episode.


  • Mbkirk13

    Paul Z and Phil Lawler were ahead of their time! These are true leaders of creating a “Health Club” in the middle and high school Physical Education programs of Naperville. I have had the great fortune of meeting and knowing both of these fantastic educators and have visited their programs many times. They have truly revolutionized physical education and they have embraced technologies throughout. When they are talking about heart rates, they are talking about giving each student the ability to monitor their own heart rates throughout exercise. This individualized approach has been a model for the country and beyond to see. I would suggest visiting this site. You really have to see it to believe. It is a living, breathing program of success! Thank-you Paul and Phil for leading.
    Beth Kirkpatrick

  • Don Moxley

    Great Job Paul! One day all schools will incorporate “daily, quality physical education” into every students education experience. We’ll look back and see exactly where the “revolution” started!

    Don Moxley

  • John Saville

    Paul this is a great video! Energized focused students are always better prepared to learn. Physical Educators positioning themselves as a vital part of the education process by helping students perform at their best is an exciting approach that should be embraced by all schools. Thanks for your leadership!

  • Guest

    William Shatner teaches gym?

  • Jean franklin

    what a piece of unsubstantiated P.R.crap.

  • Karenlepik

    We need more schools like this.Thanks for getting the word out. We have been documenting the effects of physical fitness and academics in our martial arts school for decades with amazing results.This is not a new idea.This is reviving what the Greeks did in Athens and Sparta with focus on mental and physical training equally. And in Korean Wha-Rang-Do, Japanese Bushido and Renaissance man of Medieval man were all cultures that developed the self mentally, physically and spiritually. All this makes a person.

  • Suenos88

    As a former HS Counselor (NYS), where PE credits are required for graduation, I can tell you that few classes were more hated than PE: boring, useless, needlessly competitive, often embarrassing/punitive. Naperville has discovered what anyone who exercises has known for a LONG time: the after-glow (serotonins) lasts and lasts! It’s effects on the physical health/mental health, fitness & ultimately ideal body weight is simply unbeatable. Therefore, of course, it follows (as you showed), the rest of the day for all who clock-in at 7:45am to do their workouts, excel and progress with distinction.
    THANK you for this excellent & prescient segment….who knows? Maybe publilc school PE teachers/school administrators/ students/parents/school board members were watching!! Maybe it’ll be the talk of the Faculty Room on Monday~~

  • Suenos88

    Is this the best you can do? No heavy lifting, I guess, like facts, for example.

  • Dave

    Wow. Your response is so utterly, typically… American.

    Another bag of Cheetos and a Diet Coke, dear…?

  • Bigfish344

    Paul Zientarski, Dr. John Ratey and the late Phil Lawler are responsible for the blossoming revolution in American education, If we truly care about our children as something more than a test score in some high stakes testing regimen, then we will provide them with the quality of education which you see in Naperville or in dozens of similar programs all across the country.

    Physical education is both the most changed discipline in education and the most valuable as well. I know this works, because my wife and I taught in an inner-city school in Fresno. Our curriculum was designed on the heels of the curriculum in Naperville and we saw significant improvements in fitness, academic performance and social/emotional improvements.

    There are many others pushing the movement, but those three aforementioned men have been the leaders and we owe them much for their commitment and for the courage to be leaders.
    Joe Herzog

  • Bigfish344

    Actually Jean, there is a wealth of substantiated research behind all of this. If you read Hannaford, Ratey, Jensen, Taylor, Medina, Blaydes-Madigan, Stuart Brown, Cathie Summerford, Sam Wang/Sandra Aamodt and many others I am confident you will change your opinion. I’ve been in education for 46 years, and this is the most exciting and most effective program I’ve ever encountered. AND, kids LOVE this type of P.E.

  • karen

    What a tiny mind.Must try more exercise Jean

  • Rick Baldock

    A great video that I want to show to more teachers. How can I get hold of this in Australia?

    Our ACHPER International Conference theme in Adelaide, Australia is “Moving, Learning & Achieving” and this video fits the bill nicely.

    Well done and keep up the great work.

  • Rjakcsonhcv

    I guess my only issue with this is that it’s in Naperville where they have lots of money for fancy exercising equipment. Actually being from Illinois, which has the greatest disparity between the “rich” and “poor” schools, makes me kind of mad to see this stuff. When the schools serving the lower socioeconomic groups are given the same perks, I’ll be much happier about all of their research. Until that e, it just bugs me that they have so much money to through around while other schools in Illinois worry about text books.

  • Leslie

    My son went to Grayslake North High School for 1 1/2 years. P.E. is an IL state requirement. You have NO choice but to take it every day of your high school years except for the 1/2 year when you take health. We moved from MO where the requirement is ONE year of P.E. during your 4 years of high school. When he started school here, he was bummed about taking P.E. again, but quickly grew to enjoy it. His was always the first class of the day which he found to be a good way to prepare for a day of hard work. Because the school was built in recent years to alleviate overcrowding, they also had very nice equipment. He really enjoyed the stationary bike room that had a big tv that played movies (G & PG ones). There were many choices. You could choose to do different things on some days (bike, weight room, walking, rollerblading), then on other days they would have fun team sports. Making P.E. a daily requirement, whether you have nice new equipment or not, should be a goal of every state. Our kids are worth it!

  • Momknowsbest

    Actually, to the negative commenter above, it is a well known fact that physical exercise is a means to establish communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Some children have unequal development of one side of the brain or the other and certain physical exercises can help to overcome this deficit.

  • Hspinkgirl

    This is a wonderful story. I see this in my own family. When we are physically active, we think more clearly and are more productive. My son is very active and is carrying a 4.00 at school. It’s wonderful skills that these kids will take into their adulthood. Way to go Naperville. Let’s make this the standard in America.

  • Dlawler22


    I am always open to all sides of a story. You could help your opinion by listing your credentials. You must be an expert and someone to be taken seriously.

  • Chull

    We need more schools and communities to recognize the importance of PE in the overall well being of students. Coming from a district in MI where1 year is required and 1/2 is granted for marching band (how riduclouss is that?), this model is one to follow as a way to encourage physical health. We as educators have to teach physical education as a means to a healthy a lifestyle not as a way to get credit to graduate. This is the reason the United States continues to lead the world in adult obesity because PE is slowly being eliminated in scholl requirements.

  • Dsmansk

    Unsubstantiated Whatever!!!!!! Apparently you have no idea about what you are talking about. You might try reading some journals on a topic before you make a response. Higher activity and more physically fit students almost always outperform lazy people.

  • Janetmarkmathis

    You don’t want to criticize Marching Band. I remember during band camp I was the most physically fit ever. Hours marching in 100 degree heat while blowing a clarinet. My lung capacity was incredible.

  • Dgflag

    In college, I decided to run on the track in my sophmore year. My grade point for that year went form C+ to B+..I always thought this was due to the exercise, improved and improved concentration that accompanied it. I continued with a B+ level on the track team for 3 more years in college and when I went to med school made sure I continued running …not a controled study but perhaps relevant.

  • mathteacher

    I received my PE credits for marching band. I did more physical activity being on the colorguard than I would have had in a PE class.


    Getting exercise is not about money. How much money does it take to take a group of kids out for a walk or run? How much money does it take to encourage kids to do sit ups or push ups or going out to race each other? The point is not that fancy equipment is needed to do exercise but more about getting the word out that exercise is important to developing minds and increasing potential. The point is to get the word out that PE is still a very important part of education and should be a part of students daily class schedule.

  • Taylor Walsh

    This important experience in Napierville, with the observational research to back up the results, is one of several important trends in K-12 that are leading, hopefully, to inculcating in students personal awareness of and responsibility for their own health. The others: nutrition and early implementation of stress relievers (of which PE is one). The social aspect of this learning (i.e.: done with classmates) is also a key factor. If we are really to create a basis for a healthier population, it has to happen within K-12 settings, where the student’s experience might even have some influence on parents. But the “investments” here are still much too hit-or-miss, and often dependent on the wealth of the school district or active parents.

    There is no reason that the experience-based knowledge and outcomes established in Napierville and elsewhere should not define the primary objective for US health policy itself. If “wellness and prevention” are considered truly important, here is the basis for their potential.

  • monica

    How can you claim unsubtantiated pr crap without any support for your claim? Just a question, are you overweight? Do you ever exercise? Do you possibly have any comprehension for what physical activity does for you? Not just for your physical appearance but for your mental well-being?

  • Rick

    I am a PE teacher at Saratoga High School, in Saratoga California. Our PE program is in the second year of a fitness based curriculum. We have seen incredible results in a very short time. All of our curriculum, survey results, and details of our class can be found at I encourage teachers, parents, and the community at larger to check it out.

    Rick Ellis

  • joyful mover

    Very useful support for fitness-based physical education programs. Fitness-based programs in which the learning environment encourages everyone to participate fully in learning produce students who will ultimately have the skills, knowledge and values to be physcially active for a healthy and well lifetime. Marching band should not be criticized, but rather valued for all of the contributions it makes to the present and future lives of all who participate in it, not the least of which is opportunity for futures in music and college education. Marching band credit should not be given for physical education and spors participation, however, because marching band is about marching band and, as menioned, its many benefits. Research shows that a small percentage of people participate in team sports as adults, so PE programs should not be primarily about team sports but rather about producing peole who will be healthy in the future and who will now what to do and how to to do it to enjoy healthy and active lives. What outcomes does marching band produce for the large percentage of people who do not march in bands or pursue musical careers beyond high school and college. Are there enough PE-related lifetime learning outcomes from marching band to justify awarding PE credit for marching band? Or is it time for the “non-academic” areas to stop falling prey to fighting among themselves for the scraps that do not go to STEM subjects and stand up for themeslves as subjects and experiences that can and should stand on their own and be funded, scheduled and provided in comprehensive education programs for all students? One final point: when art, music, and physical education candidates were preparing to become teachers, did your preparation seem “non-academic”?

  • Ellis Fam5

    I need to add that “exercise grows brain cells” It is a proven scientific fact! The more active our youth are the more ready they are to sit and learn. If we can plant seeds at the K-12 level about the importance of fitness and taking care of our bodies we have succeeded. I teach P.E in a primary school and doing a mix of fitness concepts and games, fun cooperative energitc games that are all inclusive, and peppering it with nutrition I feel the students get a mix of social skills, teamwork, integrity, and we always work on our fitness. These are all academically learned concepts. We need to honor wellness in the United States and start supporting quality Phys. Ed. programs to ensure the wellness of our youth and adult obesity epidemic. Homework every weekend for my students in “move your body” and “stay fit”, Thank you, T.Ellis

  • Taylor Walsh

    Later this month the secretary of HHS will release the National Prevention Strategy, a year long process of trying to create a process to “move the nation from a focus on sickness and disease to focus on wellness and prevention.”

    While a virtual clarion call, we can expect this endeavor to be circumscribed and encumbered by prevailing and archaic definitions of “prevention” and unformed notions of wellness. Let’s make the new focus on exercise in school a move to PhysEd 2.0, in which “fitness based learning” as described in the Napierville piece becomes an assumed element of every kid’s education. The slow incrementalism that federal programs somehow favor need acceleration. Based on what we now know about learning, as others have written here, there is no reason to wait. Beating this drum at the local level will be one way to a social base for moving school leadership.

  • PETeacher

    Much of the money for PE equipment is from grants. We work very hard to write grant proposals to receive money for equipment. Any school can be eligible, as long as a teacher puts in the work for it.

  • Taylor Walsh

    The apparent disparity evident in the great selection of stuff at Naperville — which is pointed out in the video — will become less an issue as the newly understood impact on student academic performance becomes more widely known. An analogy, if not a great one, is computers, which were also adopted first in schools and districts that have more resources. And, as others have said, it will also take constant advocacy to turn the old way of doing phys ed into “fitness based learning.” What a powerful turn of phrase!

  • jeff diritto

    as a strength and conditioning coach on the collegiate level, i deeply study everything that affects sport performance; primarily exercise (training) and nutrition. This show is much needed, and much needs done at the HS and lower school levels to prevent massive health issues related from preventable occurances through proper scientifically based nutrition and exercise

  • Hat2hab

    Then I would venture to say that the PE program you would have been in was NOT a well developed Physical Education class. It’s not all about the activity, but about the knowledge of how to evaluate and continue developing fitness for a life time. Marching band is physical but it is not physical education. If it is counted as physical education then why not give english language arts credit to those that belong to an after-school reading group, or math credit to those that are in mathletes, why? because it is not curricular.

  • Swissball

    Hello Ellis,

    you mentioned:
    >I need to add that “exercise grows brain cells” It is a proven scientific fact! The more active our youth are
    Do you have a explicit source (e.g. a post in a scientific journal) for this?

    thank you

  • swissball

    Hello Rick,

    unfortunately I did not find anything on your website, that shows how the students change their cognitive achievement, when they do PE. Do you test them before and after, or do you assess a group that do PE in contrast to a group that is not in PE involved?

    Please let me know from your results
    thank you

  • Swissball

    Hello Mr. Walsh,

    you wrote:
    >This important experience in Napierville, with the observational research to back up the >results, is one

    That sounds very fullminant.
    So I must confess, although PE in my personal life is a very important factor, my metal capacities were not sufficient to find that magic study/results.
    I googled south, I googled north. I emailed Mr. Ratey. Still I have no clue where to find the scientific results from the “Naperville study”.
    I know that their could be 19.000 pupils and that the obesity rate droped from 30 to 3 percent.
    But still, where is the study and in which journal was it postet.

    When this study and example is that groundbreaking, than it must be as simple as to breath to find the results in the net. In a scientific and readable form.


  • Swissball

    Hello Big fish,

    the big fish eats the small.
    So we all try to be tall.

    We have in the world not a lack of leaders,
    we have to much elites and so called leaders.

    What needed is, the opportunity for all of us, to develop our intrinsic resources to live great lives. And most time leaders are a great obstacle for this.
    Free will, freedom and liberty.


  • Taylor Walsh


    Here is an interview with Dr. Ratey from the fall of 2009, after his book “Spark” was published and in it (at about 1:40) he describes the research that has shown the formation of new brain cells that can take place with exercise.

    The work being done in brain research is really exciting. Other studies have also shown that extended mindfulness-based stress reduction (i.e., meditation) can also have cell generation effects. Check out this abstract from the research journal “Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging:”

    The technology that actually now lets us see and measure the effects of various behaviors, good and bad, are establishing the kind of knowledge basis needed to “prove” the importance of wellness-inducing activities. This is why the idea of “Fitness-based Learning” is exciting. The nation’s ambivalence about phys ed really can’t stand any longer in the face of this research and experiences like Naperville has shown. IMHO

  • Swissball

    vivir sus suenos ahora.
    usted escribe:
    >Naperville has discovered what anyone who exercises has known for a LONG time: the >after-glow (serotonins) lasts and lasts!

    Where did you read about Naperville? Do you know where the study (in which journal) is printed?

    Please let me know
    muchos saludos

  • Swissball

    Hi Karen,

    fantastic that have documented the results of physical education to academic success.
    Please let the world know, what are the facts and share your data with us.

    thank you very much for bringing the world a step forward, with proven and documented results

  • Swissball

    Hi Monica,

    take it just as another opinion. Jeans conclusion is not that redundant, indeed. But what I also miss, are some substantial hints, where the scientific results are to find (and what the discovers are in detail).
    Of course it should horse sense, that we are borne to walk and run 30 miles per day. And that the evolutionary constraint (fixed in our genes) did not change cause the human beings at the moment construct their artifical enviroment.
    But horse sense is not sufficient to count in an argumentation. If you ever read something about stretching, you will find out, that there are endless threats with a plethora of what is good, useful and healthy (stretch for warming, stretching afterwards, stretching is dangerous… look Gretchen Reynolds column at new york times).


  • Swissball

    Hello Mr. Walsh,

    thank you for your quick and linked respond.

    After watching the youtubed video, still I am hungry to get the raw data what happened in Naperville (e.g. Central Naperville high):
    -is anywhere a written text/report/study obtainable, what happended there since ~2000
    -when did the program start
    -who controled the program
    -how many pupils did participate until now
    -what is exactly the PE-regime
    -if a written text/report/study exists, what factors did they control (and how often)
    -what are the controlgroups
    -did the teacher stuff also do PE (and when not, why not)
    -what did the parents say to the results
    -what are the personal testimonies from the pupils
    - are there long-term study results (are the former pupils in their later lives more successful, more happy, more resiliant, have they more stable relationships…)

    To get some more details about that questions would be fantastique.

    thank you

  • Swissball

    Hello Mr. Walsh,

    >Check out this abstract from the research journal “Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging

    Yes, read the abstract. They observed new cells in the hypocampus, that should arose from MBSR.
    MBSR remembers me to buddishm (meditation, awareness). But MBSR is not PE.
    And why it should per se a good thing, that in some special tissue is a growing number in cells. This is no proof for enhancing the overall quality of the system…


  • Joe Bialek

    This letter is in response to the television presentation “A physical education in Naperville” broadcast on PBS and written by Mona Iskander.

    The presentation is about the incorporation of true physical education {PE} back into the Naperville Central High School curriculum. It begins by mentioning President Kennedy’s initiative of making physical fitness a national priority. However, somehow along the way the ball was dropped or perhaps the curriculum was shifted in favor of using PE as a recruiting tool for the schools sports teams. Just as with other “new” ideas; bringing back true PE to Naperville High School was met with resistance because it would make the students too rowdy to learn. In my day the biggest complaint was that not everyone was showering after PE resulting in a malodorous classroom.

    When I attended high school there was only two days per week set aside for PE. This consisted of dodge ball, volley ball and other minimum cardiovascular activities. The only real concern for a student’s PE was extended strictly to the Football, Basketball players etcetera and that was over thirty-five years ago. Now we have an obesity epidemic because students aren’t forced to exercise. Further, they prefer gobbling down a bag of potato chips and slamming down a soda rather than consuming fruits and vegetables. Where did we go wrong? It’s called academic/parental negligence folks. My primary care physician prescribed a exercise regimen that I now adhere to five days per week. Using the company treadmill I walk briskly {four miles per hour} for one-half hour. This is done during my lunch hour because I’m too lazy to use my treadmill at home. My primary reason for doing this is to avoid being forced to live in a nursing home because I was too lazy to deal with high blood pressure and type-two diabetes.

    The energy I am able to generate more than helps me get through the rest of the day. I’m not tired, can concentrate much better and have a general feeling of well being. Besides if my morning is not going well I can always “go to the locker room at halftime” and come out strong for the second half. I implore the schools, colleges and universities to modify their curriculums accordingly if for nothing else to implement the routine regiment I was prescribed to follow. If we did that back in my day think of how different things would be today. President Obama, this is another “sputnik” moment in education. Can you hear me? My complements to Naperville Central High School for demonstrating what is so absent from academia today: leadership. Mr. Zientarski, thank you for your persistence. Because of you and the faculty/staff and parents the Redhawks have flown to new heights.

    Joe Bialek
    Cleveland, OH

  • Mark_ashley

    That may have been fine at the time… However, after HS and Marching band was over, what experience did you have, or background knowledge did you gain from the marching that would help you develop an effective goal oriented exercise program addressing the components of a Health Related Physical fitness program? Sure there were benefits to the marching band experience, and one of those was exercise, however there is so much more to a quality PE program than just marching and sweat! By not having PE instruction you were never taught the aspects of a well designed exercise program, how to warm-up properly, and cool down, weight management techniques, stress reduction through exercise, flexibility, strength development, injury prevention and the F.I.T.T. principles necessary to develop cardiovascular fitness, to name just a few! If the only benefit/goal of PE was to exercise and sweat then maybe substituting band or some other sport participation would be fine but a quality PE program does so much more! Teaching lifetime fitness and ways to enhance your quality of life both as a school student and later into adult life. It is a shame that you missed this opportunity in your school experience and now must find a way to “catch up” since you’re behind the learning curve. Maybe you had the benefit of these experiences or learned this content somewhere else but others in the band who opted out of PE missed that opportunity and may not have had a chance to ever experience the individual and team aspects of sport, recreation, and a progressive exercise program. I hope you are still marching and or have developed some other leisure time pursuits to stay active and healthy now as an adult!?!

  • Anonymous

    Physical exercise (esp. cardio vascular) stimulates the production and distribution of the brain factor BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor). BDNF promotes the binding together of nerve cells allowing them to process more information more quickly. It also promotes the growth of nerve cells in the Hippocampus, the learning and memory center of the brain. In general it promotes overall health of nerve cells.  Read: “A User’s Guide To The Brain”, by Dr. Ratey, “Smart Moves, Why Learning is Not All in Your Head,” Dr. Carla Hannaford, Ph.D.                  
    The program at Sierra Vista Middle School, in Canyon Country, CA (Near Magic Mountain) is very similar to the program in Naperville (I’ve visited both) and the results are dramatically similar. George Velarde has done a magnificent job and he and Paul (and the late Phil Lawler) and many others are leading the way to making 21st century Physical Education the most valuable discipline in all of education.  Both my wife and I taught PE for 36 years and we can attest to the value of the “New PE”, which isn’t actually all that new.

  • Woodsy

    Would there be a benefit to marshall arts training – whole body, whole person?  Meditation has also shown to help improve achievement.  Do we overemphasize exercise and practice with muscles and bones at the expense of exercise and practice with the mind.  Ask anyone trained in marshall arts and they will attest to the fact that they are able to excel only when mind and body work in unison and are well-tuned.

  • Heather Lynn Mullin

    watch this

  • Anonymous

    President Kennedy’s council on fitness has, thankfully, been reconstituted, as the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.     When the body was reconvened a year ago, Paul Zientarski, who created the Naperville program was a guest speaker.  

    I think that we’ll see the addition of mind-body exercises included in school wellness programs, that are gradually blending fitness, nutrition, enviro health and stress management.  As Woodsy notes, there is good evidence for meditative training along with the physical.   Ultimately it is all about the brain!

  • hi