Many kids hate gym class, but this school gave them another choice. Students in Iowa are getting their Physical Education credit by helping people with yard work. The students can get exercise while aiding elderly and disabled people with their gardens and even chicken coops. Tim Hitzler, the social studies teacher, proposed this program at the Alternative Learning Center in Dubuque. The kids signed up to work during the last two weeks of the school year.
“Once kids do it once, they wanna do it again. It’s good for them to learn real-life skills,” Hitzler said. “They work hard; it’s not easy. They’re sweating when they’re done.”
Students are Helping People With Yard Work for Their Physical Education
According to Mike Cyze, a spokesperson for the Dubuque Community School District, to attain their PE credits, the students chose several options. While Hitzler oversaw the yard work, other students elected to clean up a river barge and golf courses.
He started the program in 2015, and students have worked outside for two hours a day during the last two school weeks of the semester.
“The students and I and other students come out and help them. Could be raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, cleaning gutters, just depends on what they need,” said Hitzler. “The students aren’t typically too excited at the beginning, but once they get involved and start doing the yard work, they become more motivated. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person.” 
In 2019, 29 students from the Alternative Learning Center signed up for the program, and 12 elected for helping people with yard work. Not only have the students helped people and got exercise, but they became a part of a community. Many of the people they worked with invited them over for dinner and cookouts. Some of the participating students decided to continue the yard work over the summer.
“I’ve had students that graduated that have come back to help,” Hitzler said. “There’s something about helping people that really need it.”
“Such a Simple Idea”
The Alternative Learning Center is geared toward high school students who are at risk of dropping out. 
“In Iowa, alternative education is a perspective, not a procedure or a program. It is based upon a belief that there are many ways to become educated, as well as many types of environments and structures within which this may occur,” reads the Iowa Department of Education’s website. “Further, it recognizes that all people can be educated and that it is in society’s interest to ensure that all are educated.” 
Hitzler uses his own pickup truck for the program, along with some of his own yard tools. When his idea received media attention, he was shocked at how many people responded to this simple and kind PE option.
“It’s been amazing, the attention this has gotten,” he said in 2019. “I think it’s because it’s such a simple idea.”
The Health Benefits of Yard Work
Aside from helping others, yard work provides its own benefits for these participating students.
One of these perks includes vitamin D. Working in the sun for 30 minutes can provide between 8,000 and 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D (of course, depending on how much skin is exposed and a person’s complexion.) Just a few of the benefits of vitamin D include strengthening one’s bones and immune system. 
Additionally, gardening is exercise, which means it could help maintain a healthy weight, improve sleep quality, and build strength. Then, there are the mental benefits. Yard work can improve a person’s mood and self-esteem and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
And, unsurprisingly, gardening can foster community and connection, especially in communal spaces. Or in this case, it builds relationships between the students and the people they are helping with their yard work. These kinds of interactions could improve one’s sense of well-being. 
During this pandemic, sunshine and exercise is more difficult to come by. However, anyone could reap the benefits of gardening while maintaining social distance. Even if you don’t have a yard, you could also grow plants and food in pots on porches or balconies.
- “Iowa Students Earn PE Credit by Doing Yard Work for the Elderly and People With Disabilities.” People. Char Adams. June 13, 2019
- “School Gives Students Credit for Physical Education Class When They Do Yard Work for Seniors and the Disabled.” Good News Network. McKinley Corbley. June 10, 2019
- “School lets students earn PE credit by doing yard work for the elderly and people with disabilities.” Yahoo Life. Hope Schreiber.June 12, 2019
- “5 Secret Health Benefits of Gardening.” AARP. Kim Hayes. June 14, 2017
- “Seed, Soil, and Sun: Discovering the Many Healthful Benefits of Gardening.” Healthline. Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA. June 17, 2020