Health and Physical Education Advocates Visit Capitol Hill

On March 6, more than 150 health and physical educators and supporters participated in SHAPE America’s 12th annual SPEAK Out! Day — heading to Capitol Hill to advocate for more health education and physical education funding. The following includes some of my thoughts and experiences from this year’s event.

Advocacy — why is it important?

Advocacy allows everyday people, like me, to share their thoughts with legislators about certain issues that matter. For instance, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) identifies school health and physical education as part of a student’s “well-rounded education.” Yes, No Child Left Behind is out, and ESSA is in.

SHAPE America has been advocating for health and physical education for quite some time. Specifically, this year we were asking for full funding for ESSA programs, $1.6 billion for Title IV, Part A and $2.295 billion for Title II, Part A. Some of this money goes toward the “well-rounded education” and other dollars provide professional development opportunities for educators.

Was I prepared?

Prior to SPEAK Out! Day, participants had access to a webinar which provided just enough background information to inspire them for the trip to Washington, DC — and it really did raise my excitement level!

SHAPE America also held a half-day training session on the afternoon before we headed to Capitol Hill. There was basic information about ESSA and guidance regarding what to ask for and how to ask for it. Part of the training this year included presentations by two legislative aides — one from the Senate and one from the House of Representatives. It was interesting to hear about their jobs and their recommendations of how we should approach the advocacy event.

Who did we meet with?

SHAPE America staff made all the arrangements with the offices of the senators and representatives and gave participants their itinerary. For instance, my group met in one senator’s office and three representatives’ offices prior to lunch. After lunch, we had one meeting back on the Senate side of the Capitol. Some meetings were with the actual senator or representative, while others were with the aides that work in those offices.

A lot of walking!

For those who may be unaware, the Senate buildings are located on one side the Capitol; the House buildings are on the opposite side. For example, this year my group started in the Dirksen Senate Building at 9 a.m. with a senator’s aide. At 10 a.m., we had to be in the Rayburn House Office Building for a meeting with a congressional aide. From there we traveled to the Longworth Building, then back to Rayburn for other meetings with representatives’ offices. Then, it was back across the Capitol grounds to the Russell Senate Building for lunch and a final meeting with our other senator’s office. Bottom line — it was a lot of walking. Everyone got their steps in on SPEAK Out! Day.

The shoes make a difference

Almost everyone who attends SPEAK Out! Day wears business attire, but with bright, neon sneakers. This makes it easy for congressional representatives and staff to know that a group of health and physical education teachers is in their buildings. Numerous times, people walked by and glanced down at our feet, usually brandishing a smile. Another time, someone walking in a small group approached us and asked, “Are you the PE people?”

Some attendees purchase new shoes for SPEAK Out! Day each year. Although that is not required, it was fun to go on Facebook to see pictures of the shoes people have picked up for the event. The shoes add a bit of fun to the day, and it makes the walking easier.

SPEAK Out Day! is only a start

This one-day event is “full speed ahead,” but what happens once we leave Washington, DC?  The advocacy continues. Many people think it is too difficult or may think, “I don’t know enough.” Not true! The effort that it takes is worth the outcome.

Here are some ideas that anyone can follow to advocate for effective health and physical education:

  1. Send a letter to your congressional representatives — it’s easy! In less than 30 seconds, I sent three letters (two senators and one representative) using the simple tools on the SHAPE America Legislative Action Center.
  2. Get on the agenda at a local school board meeting to provide a brief talk about the value of physical education and health education. These advocacy success stories will inspire you!
  3. Connect with your state organization to discuss how that association can create grassroots advocacy events.
  4. Submit an article to the local newspaper about positive outcomes of effective physical education and health education. SHAPE America has lots of valuable information to make this easier than it sounds.
  5. Attend a PTA/PTO meeting and share the benefits of health and physical education with parents of your students. Get those parents to be on your “advocacy team.”

Challenge 1

I hope after reading this, you’ll accept the challenge of participating in some “backyard” advocacy. Take a step out of your comfort zone and choose to become an advocate. SPEAK Out!

Challenge 2

For those educators who are always looking for a fun professional development opportunity, please consider being a part of SPEAK Out! Day next year — it’s an event every health and physical educator should experience!

You can read more about SPEAK Out! Day in “The Shoes Make a Difference,” an article I recently co-authored for the March/April 2019 issue of Strategies.

The title of this blog post was updated in 2021 after the United States Capitol attack.

Dennis Docheff

A former member of the SHAPE America Board of Directors, Dennis Docheff has been an elementary classroom teacher, taught numerous subjects in middle school and high school, and taught physical education at five universities. He received SHAPE America’s Joy of Effort Award and the University of Central Missouri’s Byler Distinguished Faculty Award in 2018.