Pens and pencils moved nonstop. Twelve seats were filled with people taking notes on a PowerPoint lecture given by Associate Professor Kerry Bebie and local physical education teachers. The lecture was about the importance of performing, teaching, and grading physical education to students K-12.
However, those taking notes were not college students. And the point of emphasis was not how to teach American students.
Instead, it was part of an effort to prepare women in Saudi Arabia to teach physical education classes—something that only recently was made legal in the country.
The twelve Saudi Arabian women are on a trip are in America to learn to perform and teach physical education not only to boys, but to girls of Saudi Arabia as well. Bebie said until 2017 a ban restricted Saudi Arabian woman from participating in physical activity. Now that it is lifted, the visiting women were part of an effort to train future PE teachers.
“The Cleveland Council on World Affairs contacted me,” said Bebie. “They reached out to me with this opportunity to have these delegates come and learn about PE. They have a limited amount of training over there. They brought those women from the ministry of education to learn a little more about PE.”
Amy Jo Sutterluety, associate dean, said the delegates “were learning to gain pedagogy exposure” through the training workshop.
“They hope to get guidance on how to structure classrooms or gymnasium settings to expose elementary through high school females to physical movement and activities,” said Sutterluety.
Sutterluety said the opportunity for the Saudi Arabian delegates establishes the ability to learn about the importance of physical activity through personal health for women and take that education to “help women and young girls become healthier and able to be active.”
While access to physical education classes might not seem notable to American students, it represents something much larger for these women.
“As we know, being physically active helps people be healthy,” said Sutterluety. “Allowing females to be physically active and participate in not only physical activity, but sport is a great opportunity culturally for them. It gives women more equality in activity.”
Bebie said having the delegates go through the training course gives them the opportunity to understand the significance of being physically active.
“This was a unique opportunity for us to empower young girls in athletics and physical education. PE is an esteem builder, a healthy outlet, all of the things that would benefit the whole person. It’s very progressive that there is forward thinking this way in that country.”
After the lecture, the delegates were brought to Ursprung Gymnasium to be put through real life examples on how to teach students. Bebie said this session in the gym was important in order to have the delegates view what it was like to experience being a student since none of the women themselves took PE classes prior to the lifting of the ban.
“They could run through physically what they would put their girls through,” said Bebie. “Physically going through a lesson is a valuable thing in PE because you look at it from the other side. Since this is all new to them, both sides are new, so why not have them go through the physical part of PE so they know what they are putting their students through.”
Cultural differences were apparent during some of the sessions. Throughout the training were examples of how boys and girls were graded and treated equally; Bebie said there was a question and answer at the end of the event where the delegates were interested if there was a difference in grading boys and girls.
“They were curious to know how we approached PE in an equal stance. There’s not separate curriculums,” said Bebie.
In the conclusion of the event, Bebie said the event gave the delegates “tools for their toolkit.” “[The event gave] ideas on methods, working with girls in physical education, ideas in games, all of the things we have presented to them in materials on standards, benchmarks and assessment pieces—all the things that make PE PE,” said Bebie.
The delegates are in the states from March 9-30, said Bebie, and in addition to their visit to Cleveland, included stops in Washington D.C., Boston, and Los Angeles.