In April, the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) is launching the Pilates School Approval Program (PSAP), which will provide a process for vetting and granting approval of Pilates schools that offer comprehensive teacher training. (The Registry of Schools is being phased out.)
By Anne Marie O’Connor
We asked Ray Infante, certification program manager of the PMA, about the new program and how it will affect Pilates teachers and the industry.
Pilates Style: What is the Pilates School Approval Program?
Ray Infante: This new program provides a means by which comprehensive Pilates schools can demonstrate that they comply with the 10 Educational Standards established by the PMA. A team that included a Task Force, our Summit Development Committee, members of the PMA staff, the PMA board and delegates from our Teacher Training Summits worked for over a year to create the 10 Educational Standards. The Standards are modeled on educational accreditation practices and state licensing requirements for vocational schools. The program examines both institutional and programmatic aspects of Pilates schools. It offers an organizational development opportunity for schools as well as assurance for prospective students that a given school has met the 10 Standards established by the Pilates Professional Association.
PS: How did the Pilates School Approval Program come about?
Infante: In 2010, the PMA began the development of minimum educational standards for comprehensive Pilates schools. By 2014, the minimum content template had been ratified, and the next step was the creation of an approval program. Program content alone is not sufficient to establish approval; we needed to add broader educational substance as well as institutional components.
The Pilates School Approval Program is not a replacement for the Registry; it is the outcome of years of research into minimum educational standards for Pilates schools. The fact that the Program will encompass a broad set of standards leads to the logical phase-out of the Registry.
PS: How is the Registry of Schools different from the PSAP?
Infante: The Registry was created to recognize those schools that agreed to stop using the term “certification”; this has always been the purpose of the Registry. There are six criteria that schools must meet in order to be included. The Registry is not, and was never designed to be, an approval or accreditation process. Over the years, it has become apparent that the Registry is, in fact, viewed as a sort of approval, which is incorrect.
PS: What criteria does the PSAP include that the Registry did not?
Infante: The Pilates School Approval Program requires schools to comply with 10 Educational Standards that are both institutional and programmatic. Schools must complete a very detailed application (self-study report) that will require them to review how their school operates at a very deep level, and provide evidence of their compliance. This process far exceeds the six criteria for inclusion in the Registry.
PS: Once the PSAP is phased in, will only students who graduate from an approved school be allowed to sit for the exam?
Infante: No! The Pilates School Approval Program is a program of the PMA Professional Association. It has nothing to do with the certifying of individual teachers, which falls under the auspices of the Certification Program. The Certification Program may not limit exam eligibility to any particular group.
PS: How will the PMA answer potential student questions about where they should go for training?
Infante: These calls are common. I would use the approved schools first. If there is a school that they’re interested in that is not approved, I would give them general guidelines to assist them in determining whether or not they should consider that school. These guidelines are based on standard practices and transparency, and take into account PMA certification exam eligibility.
IN FAVOR: WHY WE THINK THE PSAP WILL BENEFIT THE PILATES COMMUNITY
Many leaders in the Pilates community believe the PSAP is a beneficial development. We asked them for their feedback.
Kyria Sabin Waugaman, director of Fletcher Pilates in Tucson, AZ: I am 100 percent in support of the Pilates School Approval Program. While the Registry was a necessary step in the evolution of our profession, it was misconstrued as a PMA stamp of approval. The PSAP provides a much more objective measure for reviewing both comprehensive curriculum content and standard practices.
Amy Taylor Alpers, co-director, The Pilates Center Teacher Training Programs in Boulder, CO: We have been longtime staunch supporters of raising the bar on Pilates teacher-training programs everywhere. National third-party certification exams and minimum standards for schools are a great start. The new, much stricter requirements that the PSAP has set will protect the consumer from being sold an unacceptably low standard of teaching and protect student-teachers financially from having fly-by-night operations suddenly disappear with their tuition.
Brent Anderson, CEO and founder of Polestar Pilates in Miami: Going from the Registry to the PSAP is a huge step. There’s always going to be a little resistance, but I think for the most part, the PMA did the right thing by getting people from a number of schools—Balanced Body, Fletcher, Polestar, among others—together to create the criteria for approved schools. We looked at the physical therapy and medical models to try to understand what was necessary for us to be a profession. If you look at them, the university that is offering the program must be accredited by a national accrediting organization so its students can sit for licensure with their states.
Ken Endelman, founder and CEO of Balanced Body in Sacramento, CA: Most, if not all, of these requirements should be in place whether or not PSAP is in effect. These are simply sound business practices and policies our students are entitled to. My concerns revolve around timing, bandwidth and resources. This is a lot of work, but it is a good idea, and if we need to do this eventually, why not do it now? The most positive aspect of the PSAP is that it contributes to our need to professionalize our profession. There are not enough Pilates teachers out there working to grow our community. This is one way we can all help.
Anderson: The PMA has been clear that school approval and (instructor) certification are two different things. We’re going to recommend that people go to approved schools because if someone goes to a bogus school, they are less likely to pass the PMA certification exam. But the PMA is not going to penalize someone from a school with a great program, like STOTT, that doesn’t participate with the PMA from sitting for the PMA exam. But someone who’s had two years of practicing Pilates should not be teaching someone else to be a Pilates teacher.
THE PSAP WILL AID STATE LICENSING
Alpers: We were the very first school in the nation to become state licensed—in 2003—and since then, have been following and exceeding all the legal, professional guidelines and pushing for the PMA to do so as well. All of this helps raise our industry up to national levels of professionalism.
Waugaman: Our program has been state licensed for over a decade. It has taken significant work, as we have to ensure that our school is maintaining the highest possible teaching standards. Ultimately, this has led us to examine every aspect of what we do, which has professionalized our school. The PSAP is based on common state-licensure criteria; going through this process will enable schools to more readily become state licensed. It will take work, but it’s a necessary and positive next step.
Anderson: If states start requiring schools to be certified, we’d like them to draw from the PSAP as the criteria to be qualified by the state.
Endelman: I am hoping that the states see licensing as somewhat of a headache rather than a revenue steam, and decide that it would be easier to just conform to the standards and protocols already created by the PMA.
Alpers: Going through the state process should make the PSAP process easier. Hopefully, they’ll be very much the same, as the PMA is using several states’ current processes.
COUNTERPOINT: WHY WE THINK THE PSAP WON’T BENEFIT THE PILATES COMMUNITY
Carrie J. Cohn, owner and founder, Personal Best Fitness in Overland Park, KS: I have great respect for Ray Infante and his team. That said, the hard costs to schools of the PSAP will be more than double those of the Registry in the first year, and there will be a double-digit cost increase over 10 years. This does not include the additional administrative and opportunity costs for schools to participate, which are significant. Our Pilates teacher-training business has been listed on the Registry of Schools since its inception. We’ve found the benefits of a listing on the Registry to be in line with the moderate associated cost.
Katherine Corp, co-founder, Pilates Academy international in New York: On a philosophical level, we completely understand the objectives of the PMA and the potential long-term benefits of a more rigorous school approval program. However, we are concerned about the cost of compliance—and not just the monetary costs.
The annual cost per year of the main school and each affiliate school to be approved will go up dramatically. Headquarters of the school will most likely pass that on to each affiliate, but it may or may not be feasible. At the same time, the headquarters of each program may not be able to support the annual cost per year of each and every one of its licensees (satellites, branches, affiliates, etc.). In addition, there’s the opportunity cost of losing a great deal of time to a non-revenue-generating endeavor. (In other words, the studio owner is losing time on tasks they could be performing that are directly linked to revenue generation.)
Kevin A. Bowen, owner of Core Dynamics Pilates in Santa Fe, NM: I do not think that the PSAP will have any positive effects for our teacher-training program. The PMA is correct that the Registry of Schools created confusion, but this new process will, in my opinion, create more confusion and allow those approved schools to pit themselves against those schools that choose not to get approval. I also find it concerning that the PMA is establishing this type of school approval program in addition to its certification exam. I feel it is overreaching its mission. It may further prove to confuse the industry, since some may interpret this with regard to education as an accreditation.
CONSUMERS WON’T UNDERSTAND
Cohn: We do not see any indication from our customers that the PSAP would influence their decision on whether or not to train with us. Our clients weigh factors such as cost, convenience and the content of a teacher-training program over whether a program is associated with the PMA.
Corp: Schools that are not approved by the new process will still be able to allow their students to sit for the PMA exam and offer PMA-approved continuing-education courses. This begs the question, what special benefit is there to being “an approved school” of the PMA?
Bowen: I would also call into question the blurred lines when speaking to or recommending training programs either via an approved list or personal consultation, by the association or certification commission. The public will not understand that the association is different from the certification commission, as they share the same office.
POSSIBLE NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON STATE LICENSING
Bowen: If the Pilates training schools move toward licensure by states, they may be tied into additional regulation. For example, in Colorado, once a school is licensed, then any type of educational programming offered by that school, including two- to four-hour continuing-education workshops by traveling educators, must also be filed with the State, and the appropriate fees paid and paperwork completed.
Cohn: While I respect the PMA’s intent, adding more costs and restrictions may not be the best way for the PMA to serve the industry.
A NEED FOR ADDITIONAL STANDARDS
Bowen: If the PMA truly wants to establish didactic standards for schools, shouldn’t those standards include safe and effective Pilates teaching protocols, and an actual definition and white paper about the Pilates method in addition to the other information being requested?