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Cape Dorset students keep fit
Peter Pitseolak School awarded for promoting physical education

Stewart Burnett
Northern News Services
Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Peter Pitseolak School in Cape Dorset is one of the top in Canada for physical literacy, and that's just as important as math and writing, says outgoing principal Michael Soares.

NNSL photo/graphic

Nubeya Curley and Ruth Jaw are two physically literate students from Peter Pitseolak School in Cape Dorset. The school has been awarded for its focus on physical education programs. - photo courtesy of Michael Soares

"There's no gym in my school," said Soares. "Jim lives down the road. I send kids to physical education."

At the end of the year assembly, the school was awarded the Physical Education Canada Quality Daily Physical Education Award, which less than five per cent of schools in Canada receive. It recognizes efforts to teach physical literacy to all students in a school.

"Physical education is as valid a subject in school as anything else," said Soares. "If a kid doesn't have a fit body, they're certainly never going to develop much of a fit mind. That goes back to the roots of formal education from the ancient Greeks, where it was body, mind, spirit."

A 2014 Statistics Canada report recently wrote that Nunavut had an obesity rate of 24.7 per cent, higher than the national average of 20.2 per cent, and had the lowest proportion of residents who said they were at least moderately active, at 39.7 per cent.

Soares, originally from Atlantic Canada, said athleticism was one of the first things he noticed about Nunavummiut youth.

"I became very excited about the raw athleticism of the kids in Nunavut," said Soares.

"The kids in Nunavut are collectively the most physically literate of any young populations that I've seen anywhere, in Canada or abroad."

A wrestler and coach himself, Soares said Nunavut youth were built for grappling.

"They were really coachable," he added. "Just the raw athletic potential is amazing."

During his tenure, he helped the school focus on physical education as a subject with equal importance to any other.

The youth in Cape Dorset were particularly built for athleticism compared to those in Iqaluit, he said, where southern habits were taking over in education and lifestyle.

"We have creeping obesity in Canada," he said. "A lot of teenagers will not outlive their parents because physical activity is not part of the lifestyle. That's something I noticed in Iqaluit, which is in many cases a more southern community than it is a Northern community."

Peter Pitseolak received the physical education award more than once during Soares' time at the school.

"We are animals," said Soares. "As living, breathing organisms, we need to live and breathe and run and jump and do all the physical stuff. That's the basis for developing the rest of us, and that's very much part of our philosophy in Cape Dorset."

Soares said he gets upset with any teacher who threatens students to take away gym class.

Kids need to burn off steam to be able to concentrate better, he said.

"Don't make your own job worse by trying to take away physical activity from the kids," said Soares. "The teachers at PPS, they get that. I was very fortunate to share some time as leader of the secondary school there."

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