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DOWNEY – The name of Dan Latham, who taught physical education at West Middle School for fifteen years and is rounding out his seventh year as P. E. teacher and coach at Warren High School, surfaces from time to time in various publications for his positive contributions/ideas in this vitally important field.
For instance, he was mentioned in a 2005 bestseller, “Fatland: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World,” and “Toxic Waste?…Get to Know Your Sweat,” a 2006 book on the obesity epidemic.
As president in 2010-2011 of the California Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CAHPERD), the nonprofit, voluntary, membership organization formed exclusively “to promote the development and implementation of school, community and statewide health, physical education, recreation and dance programs,” he weighed in with his views on the results of California’s 2010 School Physical Fitness Test (PFT) scores released by the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Latham was quoted extensively and gained wide notice.
Among his comments that addressed the PFT results that said less than 39 percent of California’s students overall passed all six PTF areas and scored within California’s established ‘Healthy Fitness Zone’ (HFZ), and that the state’s youngest students tested–California’s fifth graders-less than 29 percent could meet HFZ levels of performance (or 71 percent of California’s fifth graders did not achieve HFZ scores in all six testing areas), were:
* “California’s schools have dramatically and disproportionally cut physical education and activity programs in the last five years, citing severe budget cuts. At the same time, we are seeing fewer and fewer of our kids able to achieve and maintain healthy levels of fitness. If children are not given the opportunity to move at school, or the instruction that will help hem adopt healthy, active habits, we will continue to see our Healthy Fitness Zone scores drop, and a correlating increase in childhood obesity and other health challenges related to inactivity”;
* “California’s elementary schools in particular have implemented the greatest number of cuts to physical education and activity programs. And now, 71 percent of our fifth graders are unable to achieve Healthy Fitness Zone levels of performance. That is no coincidence. I think these scores clearly indicate we are now realizing the negative results of cutting our physical education programs. We are cutting our programs at the expense of our kids’ health and wellness.”
The six PTF areas referred to are: aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength, and flexibility.
These test areas are embodied in the so-called FITNESSGRAM, a health-related fitness test developed by the Dallas-based Cooper Institute: it uses the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) to evaluate fitness performance. The FITNESSGRAM is aimed at facilitating learning about physical activity and physical fitness concepts to increase the likelihood that students will adopt lifetime patterns of physical activity-the very goal of California’s physical fitness test.
According to the California Department of Education (CDE), in 2009-2010, the PFT was given to approximately 1.32 million California students in grades five, seven, and nine, and approximately 91 percent of the students enrolled in those grades were administered at least one of the six FITNESSGRAM tests. Of those, less than 29 percent of the grade five students scored in the HFZ in all six fitness areas, and less than 39 percent of grade nine students met the HFZ standards in all six fitness areas. To which Latham made reference: “These PTF scores reflect that we are going backwards, not forward in our efforts to keep our children healthy. California’s parents should demand that their children receive quality education that will positively impact the whole child-mind and body. These test scores clearly indicate that more of our educational resources should be dedicated to ensuring 100 percent of our children achieve HFZ levels. Until that happens, we will continue to see these scores drop; and will potentially raise an entire generation of very unhealthy people.”
Latham is quick to give credit to four people “who have given me direction throughout my career.” The four: Coach Randy Drake, Dr. Ed Sussman, Mrs. Cori Miller, and Dr. Mary Stauffer.
Coach Drake was “my greatest mentor,” he said. “It was he who prepared me to be who I am today as a professional. He always took the time to clarify what was important in life. He was the king of the teachable moment. He has been the greatest teacher/coach I’ve ever been associated with.”
“To Dr. Sussman, I owe my career,” he said. “He provided me with opportunities I might never have had. He allowed his employees to embrace new challenges, try new avenues that will lead to growth. When he mentioned his wish to win the coveted ‘Golden Bell’ award before he retired, I promised him I’d help him win it. And the district did, with the Stauffer Cyberobics at West Middle School.”
Mrs. Miller was “a model educator and my friend,” Latham went on. “We challenged each other to think big as far as physical education was concerned. Her vast knowledge of physical education and physical fitness were instrumental in providing our students with a positive, untraditional program of physical education.”
And how about Dr. Stauffer’s inspiring spirit? he said. “Dr. Stauffer gave me the confidence to ask the tough question and to demand solid answers. She was the key that unlocked the Cyberobics ‘Exergaming’ concept that has seen four facilities get developed in DUSD-West Middle School, Warren High School, Downey High School, and Griffiths Middle School. Her fingerprints have extended outside DUSD and are seen in several ‘Exergame’ facilities throughout the state. This concept allows students to participate in a multi-sensory, physical activity environment where current videogame technology partners with cardiovascular equipment to allow the student to be the active participant in the videogame.”
Recipient of numerous awards and recognitions as well as a member of several health- and sports-related associations, Latham obtained his B.A. in physical education in 1990 and his master’s in kinesiology/pedagogical studies in 2006, both from CSU-Long Beach, and is eyeing an Ed. D. to commence in the fall. He is a product of DUSD schools and has taught and coached (football, tennis) nowhere else but at DUSD.
Published: May 9, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 04