Logan spent his first five years in school at Earl Boyles Elementary School in Southeast Portland, where OPB’s Class Of 2025 originated. Last year, his family moved to Salem and enrolled at Yoshikai Elementary School.

His first impression was positive.

“We get chocolate milk every day,” Logan said with a grin.

But there’s also something healthier that Logan was seeing more of at Yoshikai than at his old school.

“So instead of having PE like every once in a while, we have PE every day,” Logan said.  

Class Of 2025 student Logan climbs the rock climbing wall at Yoshikai Elementary School, as part of his PE class.

Class Of 2025 student Logan climbs the rock climbing wall at Yoshikai Elementary School, as part of his PE class.

Rob Manning/OPB

As parents send their kids back to school this week, many may lament the lack of physical activity built into the schedule, especially for children who aren’t naturally drawn to run around during recess. Many schools provide PE just once or twice a week as part of a rotation with other “specials,” like music and art.

Oregon leaders have spent years trying to ramp that up. Oregon’s childhood obesity rates are among the lowest in the country, but about 1 in 5 school-aged children weigh more than they should.

Oregon legislators passed new PE time requirements back in 2007, when Logan and his classmates were babies. The elementary target was at least two and a half hours of PE a week. In middle school, well over three and a half hours.

Lawmakers gave the law a 10-year phase in period. But as the 2017 deadline approached, schools weren’t ready. So lawmakers agreed to postpone and phase in the PE rules starting in 2019.  

Some schools are meeting the standards already. Like Logan’s new school, Yoshikai Elementary.

On this morning, Logan and his classmates are tumbling through an Indiana Jones-themed obstacle course — hopping over skulls, sliding between snakes and swinging on ropes. Candace White is one of two PE teachers supervising a double-sized class of fifth graders on this spring morning.

“So the kids love being in here five days a week. I love it too because I get to see them every single day and I get to know them a lot better,” she said.

White said she hears from classroom teachers that consistent PE helps kids pay better attention in class.

“It wakes them up, gets them ready to go,” said Logan’s classroom teacher, Sarah Whitfield.

“I’ll often plan things that I need them to focus on after they’ve come back from PE, because I know they’ve got the blood flowing and their brains are working, and they’re ready to focus.”

Recent studies show that physical activity can help academics, short and long-term. The Yoshikai principal, Zan Payne, said she’s seen firsthand that PE can help academic performance.

“A couple years ago we were looking at what would happen if we gave the kids the chance to be in PE then come take the [state standardized] test,” Payne recalled.

“There are so many variables, so who’s to know — but of course, it really seemed like it had an effect.”

Some Oregon school districts have said they’re on track to meet the mandate for certain grade levels, but not others. Some have said they don’t have the physical space. Others don’t have the PE staff, or time in the schedule without cutting other courses.

“[Like] much of the state, we do not currently meet with this future PE time requirement but we are planning further discussions regarding how we will address this unfunded mandate,” said David Warner, spokesman for the Forest Grove School District.

Even schools and districts that have taken steps to reach the mandate in the past are struggling to keep their commitments to PE time.

Yoshikai leaders had to cut PE this year to four days a week, because administrators couldn’t make it work with a growing student population.

The regular PE has been responsible for valuable health lessons, said Logan’s mother, Angelina Bryce-Madrid.

“He’d just rather be more active, doing PE every day, I think,” Bryce-Madrid said.

“I think he has more fun with it, which makes him more willing to want to do it.”

Physical activity seems contagious, and it has become part of the social life of Logan in his new neighborhood. Logan said he and his friends play outside more than he did with friends at his old school.

“The PE kind of gets me energized and stuff,” Logan said.

“Me and my friend, we go down to our other friend’s house, like ride bikes, and just play for a long time outside.”

The new mandate for elementary PE kicks in a year from now. Thirty minutes every four days. Yoshikai should still meet it.

In the mean time, Logan has advanced to the neighborhood middle school.

Salem-Keizer officials said Logan’s middle school will also meet that target, of three hours of PE per week.

The middle school mandate starts in 2021, when the Class Of 2025 will be starting high school.