The ideas represented within this article are opinions in nature and are solely that of the author. They may not wholly reflect the stance of The Forest Scout newspaper as a publication.
On August 31st, the Illinois Senate voted in favor of SB (senate bill) 1947, also known as the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act. The House approved the bill only days before, and both sides of the political aisle declared it a success. However, there is one seemingly minor part of the bill that seems to be going unnoticed. There are ample suggested changes in the Physical Education and Driver’s Education programs in Illinois’ public schools: the state wants to reduce the requirement for PE from five days a week to three, and they are also permitting public schools to hire outside companies to run the driver’s education program.
As a teaching assistant for the freshmen Wellness for Life course, this is a scary proposition. Not only do we need physical activity every day for our day-to-day health, but P.E. can provide a break in the day, especially for students with a rigorous schedule.
P.E. teaches students teamwork and persistence in difficult situations. Wellness teaches us how to live healthy lifestyles, while teaching us skills that we can use for living independent lives in our futures.
As a T.A., I am able to make connections with peers that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to make otherwise. The freshmen all have stories that deserve to be heard, and in being a T.A. I am graced with an opportunity to hear them. I observe them playing sports, cheer them on and help them get the basket or the goal they deserve. I observe these freshmen learning about teamwork, to see how passing the ball will give them more success than keeping it to themselves. These opportunities to learn have the potentially to be phased out–or at the very least minimized–thanks to the new law. Aside from that, downgrading the requirements of P.E. means cutting full-time employment. Whose load would that decrease? Would it be Mr. Firodirosa, the only former professional athlete that our school employs, who teaches young men and women to be strong, tough, and kind? Would it be Mr. Busse, who teaches scores of freshmen with an unmatched energy and enthusiasm? Ms. Anderson or Ms. O’Donnell, who have so selflessly taught so many young women that it is possible to be a great teacher and a great mother? The caring and compassionate Mr. Werner? The ever-optimistic Mr. Landvick? None of those teachers deserve this. Each of them have earned their status at LFHS.
As for the Driver’s Education part of the law, I can attest that the Driver’s Education program at Lake Forest High School is one of the best around. Some of my fondest memories of my sophomore year include unusually warm days in the beat-up Driver’s Ed. cars, listening to Mr. Webster’s rocking playlists, and getting away from school for a little bit and going for a drive during my day. If these outside companies come in to run the program, all of the memories that I have will not be a reality for future sophomores and students who learning to drive. Not only do I have fond memories of Driver’s Education here at Lake Forest High School, I have skills that I will use for the rest of my life. I don’t know a single one of my friends who has had a driving incident since taking the class here at the high school. I feel safe in tough situations (and by tough, I mean trying to navigate around the high school during open house with parents everywhere), and I’m able to drive to do errands and get to appointments with confidence that I drive cautiously and appropriately. I would hesitate to put my faith into a separate company; after all, these teachers have been teaching Lake Forest students how to drive for many years.
While I have been taking the time in this article to disparage this bill, I have to highlight some of the benefits that it does have for students. Public schools are going to receive funding based off of an ‘evidence-based’ program, a $75 million fund for private schools was negotiated.
But this seemingly insignificant detail about Physical Education and Driver’s Ed. could have very real and very negative effects on our school district, and those like us throughout Illinois. The real winners in this bill are the private companies and even private schools. The losers are Illinois students.
However, not all is lost. According to the statute itself, districts have the option to decide on the number of days that Physical Education is required in that school. That means that our school district has the option to require gym five days a week, and the state isn’t mandating that we change that.
As for Driver’s Education, the state is also leaving districts the option to hire a private company to teach driving to students. That does not mean that districts are required to change to a private company. If the district does decide to hire a private company, there are specific steps that the board has to take, like holding a public hearing or get certification from the state.
The bottom line is simple: we don’t have to change the number of days we have gym, or elect to hire a private company to teach us how to drive. It’s up to the district to keep up the standards that benefit us; yes, we may not really want to have gym every day, but we do need it. It’s up to our district, and our school board, to stand for us, and make decisions to help prepare us for healthy lifestyles in the future.
I remember taking my driving skill test in the dead of winter, on a freezing and snow-covered day in January. I finished, thankfully with a great grade, and I decided to watch my partner complete his test. Vividly, I remember standing on the icy sidewalk with Mr. Webster watching my driving partner complete a straight-in park, and Mr. Webster began reminiscing about how much he loved his job.
Mr. Webster has been here for around thirty years, and throughout those years, he has taught hundreds of kids how to drive. He told me he loved his job because of all the people he got to meet, and the lives he’s changed in the process. On that cold afternoon, I realized how lucky we were to get a teacher with so much experience, and a program that prepares us so well. I can’t imagine not having that. As for his trusty sidekick Mr. Matheson, he is as much a part of the cultural lifeblood of LFHS as anyone. He has led the golf team to numerous IHSA State Championships, coaches the JV volleyball team in the spring, and is always around the high school supporting and promoting LFHS athletics in between those seasons. I can’t imagine our school losing such iconic teachers.
So, it’s up to you, Lake Forest School District 115, and our school board. The ball is in your court. Let’s keep our programs dribbling (and driving) on for a long, long time.