For much of the past year as SHAPE America president, I've written extensively about 50 Million Strong by 2029. Since announcing 50 Million Strong to great fanfare at last year’s national convention, SHAPE America board members and staff have made every effort to explain exactly what it is at state conferences, on Exchange, in news releases and social media, and elsewhere. Collectively, we've traveled thousands of miles, devoted hundreds of hours, and spoken countless times in an effort to mobilize the physical education and health education professions to support what is in reality a revolutionary change in what we do.
Clearly however, communicating exactly what this change means to others is not easy. In puzzling over the challenge, I was reminded of the party game in which guests try to guess a song title. You remember? Someone tries to tap out a well-known tune on a table. Despite "hearing" the tune clearly in one's head it's often impossible to get others to recognize it.
50 Million Strong by 2029 is somewhat similar. Those of us on the SHAPE America board have talked about it so much that it's become almost second nature. Speaking to each other we know exactly what we mean and it's easy to assume that others do too. Not true. So today, I want to give it another try and if the tune’s still unclear or if you have questions or concerns, I invite you to express them in the comments section below.
50 Million Strong by 2029 is not a program. We understand that today's health and physical educators are swamped by program and product choices, and the mind-boggling multitude of options keeps accelerating. Teaching is hard enough and it's easy to become overwhelmed. The stress of being asked to implement something new, often without much in the way of support — either release time or financial incentives — can fast become disheartening.
So what excites me about 50 Million Strong by 2029 is that at its core it is an effort to simplify all of our jobs. Let’s admit, for far too long health and physical educators have tried to do too much. While it may be true that the things we do can improve reading, writing, and arithmetic, develop social skills and much more, none of these are our major purpose — our reason for being.
The main reason many of us chose to become health and physical educators was because we were convinced living physically active lives and making healthy choices was important. It's the way most of us grew up. It's what we wanted for our own children and the children we taught. It's what we believed would prepare them for happy and productive lives. It was that simple.
But along the way things got complicated. Instead of trying to prepare young people with the skills, knowledge and commitment to be active and healthy, we took on other things. Some of course were forced upon us. And we gave in. But in honesty what's been the result? Today's youth are no longer very active, too many are making unhealthy lifestyle choices, and the health and physical education professions are not widely respected
50 Million Strong by 2029 aims to return us to our roots: focusing on getting our students active and healthy. But what's different is the expectation that within 14 years we can demonstrate success. We all know there is a difference between teaching and learning. Between teaching reading or math and being able to read or calculate. It's similar to dieting and losing weight. You can do one without the other. Committing to 50 Million Strong by 2029 radically changes things. It accepts that results matter. Doing isn’t enough.
And so, in short, that's what 50 Million Strong by 2029 is — it's a commitment. And the way it works is this. 50 Million Strong by 2029 is the "lens" through which all of us must look when we make decisions about our teaching and our professional work. Whether you are a SHAPE America board member or staff member, a district or state executive director or leader, a school district program supervisor, a department head, or — and most importantly — a teacher who interacts daily with America's youth, everything we do must advance the success of 50 Million Strong by 2029. If what we are doing isn't helping America's youth commit to being more physically active and making healthy lifestyle choices, we are diminishing the likelihood of 50 Million Strong by 2029 succeeding.
But what's exciting is the incredible potential of America's health and physical educators to succeed both in transforming the lives of America's youth and in mobilizing public support for what they do. There's close to a quarter of a million of us in America's 100,000 public schools, regularly interacting with young people for the most significant developmental years of their lives. Never before has there been so much interest in children’s health. Everyone knows that healthy kids do better. Committing to 50 Million Strong by 2029 is a lifeline for SHAPE America and the professions we represent to the future. Please join us.