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Part Two: Thriving Schools Q/A with Ken Dyar, Director of PE Programs, Delano Union School District

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena


In this, the second of a two-part Q/A, Thriving Schools got together with Ken Dyar, Director of Physicial Education & After School Programs at Delano Union School District in Delano, CA.

Read the first part here.

In his work, Ken has an infectious passion, and is a tireless advocate for physical activity for youth and families. He has a number of great solutions and practice tips for families, educators and schools earned from direct experience. Previously, Ken spoke of engaging schools, then families, then the community in increasing activity.

TS: How are you getting physical activity into the community?

Ken Dyar: I implemented the social development aspect of the physical education curriculum. I used Project Adventure, or team building games, as a very powerful means to teach students how to become better people. My entire department works very hard to help the kids develop a sense of community at school.

Recently, our work paid off in an unexpected and powerful way. The 6th and 7th grade students were learning two new aerobic routines that the 8th graders already knew. So I asked the 8th graders in 1st period to stand next to a 6th or 7th grader, if they felt comfortable doing so, and help them with the different moves. I expected a handful of 8th grade students to step forward and help. They all went to help. Every single 8th grader went to help. I was happily stunned. But later I was moved to tears as the same thing happened in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th periods. There was some magic in PE that day, and I will never forget it.

TS: Tell us about Delano, and where you work.

Ken Dyar: Delano is a small, agricultural community. Our kids don’t have a lot of advantages in life. Their parents work hard, but are often unsure how to help their children lead a successful life. I grew up in this town and came back to give something back. Every day, at the end of each period, I tell my students to “Be Good Humans!” It is my mantra. Students and parents who come back to see me, and tell me they are “good humans,” fill me with the greatest sense of accomplishment.

TS: How did you build support for this? How were you able to get district leadership support?

Ken Dyar: I started by throwing out traditional PE curricula and changed to a health & fitness based model centered on NASPE’s National PE standards. In just 4 years, using nothing more than a change in focus, our 7th grade Fitness gram scores jumped from 7% to 42% – higher than the state and county averages at that time. I used those numbers to present to the school board, administration, parents, and any other group I could get in front of.

Any physical educator worth his/her salt knows that fitness is only one part of a quality PE program. However, the people who control the purse strings understand numbers, and we were able to point to our fitness numbers – over and over again – to draw positive attention to our program and the importance of what we were doing for our kids. Eventually, after selling our program again and again over several years, I got the school board’s attention. They became believers and teammates of ours, and they made a commitment to student health that exists to this day.

TS: What obstacles did you face?

Ken Dyar: I’ve always said that the toughest part of advocacy is changing people’s perceptions of what we do. All adults had PE when they were kids. They all think that they know what we’re doing in the 21st century. But they are wrong. The biggest obstacle is adult education. It is a never-ending process. But we are making significant progress, and more and more research is pouring in to support the link between student health and academic

The adults are starting to pay attention…including the First Lady!

TS: What are some of the positive effects you’ve seen from integrating more activity?

Ken Dyar: Way back in 1998-99, when we implemented Project Adventure team-building activities into our curriculum, we had a 60% drop in on-campus fights. We’ve also seen suspensions drop, student focus increase, and academic achievement improve for our kids.

Most of these results were achieved at the middle school level, but now that we have implemented SPARK PE district-wide, our elementary sites are starting to see these same types of benefits. We are even bringing activity into the classrooms in the form of brain breaks to further our wellness/achievement focus.

TS:  What advice do you have for someone trying to build the culture of physical activity in their school?

Ken Dyar: To steal a phrase from “Body by Jake” Seinfeld….”Don’t Quit!” Sell, sell, and sell!

Start by building a worthwhile program at your school, and then use every chance you get to sell what you are doing to the public  school boards, principals, district admin, parents, community members, etc.

This is a journey, not a destination, and your efforts will be needed for your entire career. It will never stop. But that’s OK. In fact, it’s professionally invigorating to see an entire community begin to embrace the health and fitness of its children and make real change that will benefit youngsters for years to come.

If you are a “roll out the balls” PE teacher, please find another profession. That stereotype hurts all of us who are trying to make a positive change. But if you truly care about kids, then do your homework on childhood obesity, embrace the relevance and importance of your profession as a “neurokinesiologist” (PE teacher!), and dedicate the rest of your career to build the wellness culture in your little corner of the world.

Don’t just confine yourself to your campus. You have to start there, but ifyou want lasting change, reach out beyond the walls of your school and bring in your entire community.

It really does take a village.

TS: I understand you’re working with staff, too? What led you that? How have you seen that impacting the students?

Ken Dyar: Teaching is an incredibly stressful, demanding job. If we want staff to function at their best, then we should be willing to create wellness opportunities for them just as we do for our kids. Teachers are such caring, giving people by nature, and spend so much energy helping their students, that sometimes they forget to take care of themselves. None of us function at our best when we are un-well.

So we decided to begin wellness programs for staff to address their health needs. This effort is in its infancy in our district, but we have seen tremendous support. As we grow our capacity for staff wellness, I am confident we will see the same positive benefits as we have with our children.



Ken Dyar was named a California Teacher of the Year in 2006.  He is currently the Director of Physical Education & After School Programs, including DUSD’s after school program – POWER (Powerful Outcomes in Wellness, Education, & Recreation).  He taught for 18 years prior to this assignment, teaching 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades (13 of those years as a physical educator and department chair at Cecil Avenue Middle School in Delano). He graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1989 with a B.S. in Physical Education.  Ken has led more than 200 PE workshops throughout California, and has done presentations for delegations across the western United States and in Boston and Washington DC.

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