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Linking girls’ experiences in physical activity to school culture and social and political contexts : elements of an exemplary model Fenton, Jennifer


The main purpose of this study was to examine the physical activity experiences of grade four girls living in a low income multiracial community, by taking into account how the school culture and the broader social and political contexts shaped (and are shaped by) these experiences. Research questions were posed in four areas: i) how did the girls experience physical activity? ii) how did the social context (e.g. low income, multiracial community and relationships with community organizations, police, and parents) influence these experiences? iii) how did the school culture shape these experiences? and iv) how did the political context (e.g. Ministry of Education policy, budget reductions) influence program provision? The research methodology involved an examination of grade four girls' physical activity experiences, the practices and beliefs of the physical education instructor, principal, and two grade four teachers in the case study school, and an analysis of relevant documents to the planned physical education program. The data was analyzed using the qualitative software program, Q.S.R. NUDIST. Five prominent themes, two of which were seldom addressed in the literature, emerged from the experiences of the girls. Issues around safety and fair play were important to the girls, but were not recognized to the same degree by the literature or by others in this study. The importance of "having fun," gender relations, and the physical education instructor were factors that confirmed the findings of previous studies (Griffin, 1989; Jaffee & Manzer, 1992; Talbot, 1993; Humbert, 1995). Although the girls enjoyed the program, how the girls interpreted their experiences did not always correspond to the intentions of those providing it. By situating the girls' experiences within the social and political contexts and school culture, additional insights surfaced. The teachers described high incidences of crime, and family and social problems, while an examination of the school culture revealed a school that recognized that a planned physical education program could make a difference in these students' lives. It also revealed an acknowledgement of social class inequities, but at the same time gender and racial differences were ignored. The political context arose primarily through the strategies and policies designed to deal with social class issues. Although the results indicated discrepancies between the girls' experiences and the school's intentions, the school's commitment to a planned physical education program reflected elements of an exemplary model.

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