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ASU professor highlights the importance of physical activity across the nation

ASU physical education professor Hans van der Mars asks for stronger policies to promote physical education in K-12


ASU physical education professor Hans van der Mars poses for a photo in his office at Santa Catalina Hall on ASU's Polytechnic campus on Monday, April 16, 2018.

For ASU professor Hans van der Mars, physical education should be a priority and all students should participate in physical activities that they enjoy through childhood and into adulthood. 

As a professor and program coordinator for the physical education program at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, he said his goal is to set students up for a physically active lifestyle. 

"We want to make sure that students come out of a K-12 program and have the skills, knowledge, interest and disposition to go out and lead healthy lives," van der Mars said. "There is a need for strong policies at the state level ... that create expectations of what kids get out of a physical education program."

Originally from the Netherlands, van der Mars came to the U.S. 40 years ago. He obtained a teacher license in the Netherlands, a master's in physical education from Ithaca College in 1979 and a doctorate from The Ohio State University in 1984.  

He said requirements for physical education are currently minimal in Arizona, and the state also lacks a minimum number of minutes of physical education per week in K-12 schooling.

According to the Physical Activity Council's 2018 Participation Report, 27.6 percent of Americans age six and older were physically inactive in 2017. 

The focus on academic performance neglects the health of children, van der Mars said. In addition, after school sports programs only accept the top students, he said.  

Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed Senate Bill 1083 which requires children to be provided with at least two recess periods per day. Van der Mars said he thinks there needs to be more requirements, but that SB 1083 is a step forward in ensuring that children are physically active in schools.

Engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity has health benefits like reducing the risk of chronic diseases and preventing stress, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Aside from the health benefits,  increased physical activity can improve the economy by increasing productivity at work as well as cut healthcare costs in the U.S., van der Mars said. 

He also said investing in increased physical activity through P.E. in schools and other sectors of society could be one of the most economical investments in the health of the country. 

Inspired by his second grade physical education teacher, van der Mars decided he wanted to become a physical education teacher early on in his career. 

He now focuses on secondary school level P.E. programs and teaches courses covering topics such as secondary school methods and specific curriculum and instruction models.

ASU's physical education program aims to prepare students to become certified to teach in K-12 schools. Several students transfer into the program from other majors while others enroll in the program to become after school sports coaches, he said. 

Students majoring in secondary education with a specialization in P.E. have opportunities to practice their teaching by assessing performance and providing feedback to students while engaged in activities. 

Van der Mars is the course coordinator for his former doctoral student Jennifer Houston, who is a faculty associate in physical education and teacher education at ASU and adapted P.E. teacher in the Mesa Public Schools District

"He's not a hand holder, meaning that he points you in the right direction and wants you to figure it out, which is something that I admire about him," Houston said. "He taught me that there is always something to learn."

A few years ago, van der Mars reestablished a basic instruction program that offers roughly 100 sections of one-credit courses offered every semester at ASU. Any student at the University can sign up for a one-credit, 8-week course which includes options such as softball, racquetball, tennis and yoga.  

He has also published research that has appeared in publications such as "The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance" and "Educational Leadership." He has co-authored several professional papers as well as textbooks and has received national awards for his work. 

Phillip Ward, a physical education and kinesiology professor at Ohio State University, said van der Mars has mentored and supported physical education faculty throughout the country and overseas for the past decade. 

"He's a really good model in how to serve the academic community and the best example of what it means to be a scholar and a professor," Ward said. "I consider him a statesman in the field, and his contributions will continue to be to look at policy and ways he can bring people together."

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