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Friday, June 23, 2017

New York City Physical Education Spaces Get A Well Needed Boost



Bronx Health REACH is excited about the recent announcement from New York City Mayor de Blasio and city leadership to invest $385 million in capital funds to bring designated physical education (PE) space to all schools citywide as part of the Universal PE Initiative. The initiative includes 76 schools in the first phase. Thirteen of these schools are located in the Bronx.

In the Bronx, 43% of elementary school students are overweight or obese, higher than the rest of NYC boroughs. Lack of physical activity is a significant factor contributing to childhood obesity. To further investigate the link between high childhood obesity rates and physical education resources in the South Bronx, Bronx Health REACH (BHR) led a district-wide assessment of PE in 2015/16. The assessment looked at PE instruction and spaces in the South Bronx District 9 elementary schools.

The assessment revealed that 18 of the 24 schools (75%) had a gymnasium space to use for physical education. However, the 18 schools with gymnasiums encounter challenges in their existing space due to overcrowding and limited space. The remaining six schools (25%) are without gym space and are dependent on alternative spaces like classrooms, hallways and cafeterias for indoor physical activities.

BHR has met with, and will continue to work with the New York City Department of Education to meet the needs in schools for PE spaces. BHR has worked with several of the District 9 schools lacking PE space to implement active design projects that utilize small equipment and materials transforming areas in and around school buildings to promote physical activity at schools  like Grant Ave Elementary School which is bringing ‘Big Blue Blocks’ to turn  their empty yard into a play ground. While at PS 35 where students currently use the multipurpose room as a gym, the school is working to improve the space with art and play equipment.

In the next few years, PS 35 will see larger scale changes with a new gym space thanks to the Universal PE Initiative! The NYC Department of Education (DOE) and the School Construction Authority (SCA) will work with schools to explore options that ensure all students have access to PE space. The DOE offers several solutions including constructing new gymnasiums, converting/enhancing existing spaces for fitness, renovating playgrounds, converting auditoriums into gyms, or leasing space from nearby community-based organizations.

Recent legislation has addressed other aspects of PE access in NYC schools. In 2015, the NYC Council passed Local Law 102 that requires NYC DOE to make publically available, an assessment of PE programs offered at all NYC schools. In 2016, the Mayor allocated $100 million for 500 newly licensed PE teachers through the PE Works Program (a 19% increase) and “Move to Improve,” a classroom-based PE program. Equitable school physical education, both instruction and physical spaces, could reduce the disparity in childhood obesity.

It cannot be overstated the important role schools have in the fight to reduce childhood obesity. New York public school students spend an estimated 1,200 hours in school each year. School physical education is a critical factor in not only improving their health but also in their academic achievements. The city’s commitment to NYC school gym spaces is an investment in the current and future health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers.


To learn more:

Read the press release describing the new plan


Read more about PE city-wide.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sprout Scouts: Good, Healthy, Safe, Happy, and Respected


Students clear the plant debris from the fall harvest to prepare for spring planting.

Cara Plott is a FoodCorps service member with Bronx Health REACH. She is working with The Family School in the Bronx to integrate garden and nutrition lessons into classes, promotes healthy food options in the cafeteria, and supports a school wide culture of health. Cara attributes her excitement at working with The Family School to the fact that teachers, administration, cafeteria staff, and students appreciate the importance of healthy bodies and healthy minds for learning and growing. 


Here is her report.

This spring has been an exciting time at the Family School as we have rolled out two new programs to give our students more opportunities to grow as learners and gardeners. One initiative is the roll out of our weekly garden lesson sequence. For the first time this spring, students from all Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade classes have engaged with our garden through planting seeds and learning how plants grow. Each class has a weekly garden class time, where students do hands on lessons that are aligned with the New York City science curriculum. In the fall, our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes will learn and plant in the garden. By systematizing our use of the garden space, more students and teachers will have the opportunity to use the garden as it becomes woven into the fabric of the school’s curriculum and culture.


Second, we have started our first ever afterschool gardening club, called Sprout Scouts. The Sprout Scouts are ten fifth grader leaders nominated by their teachers, some of whom are also Wellness Ambassadors. The Sprout Scouts club is jointly led by Ms. Goodspeed, a first grade teacher at The Family School, and me. Our Sprout Scouts have been hard at work getting the garden ready for planting by our younger students. So far they have cleared the garden beds of dead plant matter from last year and analyzed the components of our soil. They also helped to construct a pea trellis (see photo below)! Many of the activities that we do in Sprout Scouts are from the curriculum recently developed by FoodCorps in collaboration with LifeLabs.


Students helped to build a pea trellis on one of the raised beds. Here students are stringing twine to create the net up which the pea plants will grow.

Why are we so passionate about gardening at The Family School? First, from seed math, to writing poems about changes in spring, to analyzing nitrogen content of soil, we know that our students can greatly benefit from the hands on learning opportunities in the garden. Second, seeing where the food they eat comes from and developing a better understanding of the cycle of nature equips our students with the knowledge and critical thinking skills to make healthy choices in their own lives now and in the years to come. Third, the garden creates a unique community for our students. While we are learning gardening and cooking skills, we are also learning life skills, like how we should respect all living things, from our fellow humans to the smallest worm. On our first day of Sprout Scouts, our Scouts came up with words that described the way that they wanted to feel in the garden: “Good, Healthy, Safe, Happy, and Respected.” Through our work in and out of the garden we seek to help make our fellow gardeners know that they deserve to feel each of these things, and that they are supported to grow into whatever they aspire to be.

Joseph Ellis – Committed to Enlightening Communities about Health Issues Affecting the Whole Body


Joseph Ellis attended his first Bronx Health REACH faith based outreach meeting in 2006. He didn’t realize at the time, but that meeting would eventually lead him to becoming an employee of Bronx Health REACH. As a member of the Bronx Deliverance Center of Faith Church, Joseph was drawn to the faith based meetings due to the healthcare component. As a deacon in his church one of his roles is to distribute health materials and educate fellow parishioners on the importance of healthy eating and physical activity. He was instrumental in having two diabetes workshops held at Bronx Deliverance, something that had not happened before.

In 2007 Joseph was hired as an outreach organizer at Bronx Health REACH working as a faith-based liaison between Bronx Health REACH and churches in the community encouraging them to establish health ministries. Joseph, keenly aware that the church pastor sets the tone for the healthcare ministry in a church understood the importance of engaging pastors in the effort. “If a pastor is interested in having a healthcare ministry, then that congregation will have a healthcare ministry, but if the pastor has no interest a church member will have to create and advocate for it.”

In addition, Joseph assisted with the implementation of four Bronx Health REACH initiatives with the faith based partners: Fine Fit and Fabulous, a nutrition and fitness program; The Culinary Initiative, a healthy cooking course for culinary committee members; God’s Health Squad, a youth nutrition program, and The Way, a support program for congregants living with diabetes. “One church had been serving fried foods but once they got on board and revamped their kitchen, they started making such changes as baking instead of frying foods, and serving brown rice rather than white rice,” said Joseph.

Unfortunately funding for the grant that supported the faith based programs ended and Joseph's position was eliminated. He continued to attend various healthcare events in the Bronx and would always run into Bronx Health REACH Director Charmaine Ruddock.“ After one of the events Charmaine sent me an email asking if I would be interested in a community health worker position that was created for the Vegetable and Fruit Prescription Program. I came in for an interview and was hired.”

Working at the Institute for Family Health’s three Bronx health centers Joseph has discovered that there are many challenges obese patients face when looking to exercise and lose weight. “I gave one patient a flyer about the Saturday exercise classes held at Stevenson. She looked at the photo in the flyer, which depicted thin people doing exercises. Thinking that she would be the only overweight person in the exercise class, she felt embarrassed and discouraged from attending the exercise class.”

Joseph realizes that he is not able to make every patient he sees healthy overnight, but encourages them to take the necessary steps by educating them about eating healthier; promoting attendance at food demonstrations at the health centers; encouraging patients to go on organized tours of neighborhood supermarkets and bodegas to identify healthy food they can purchase, and by distributing health bucks and conducting farmers market tours.

According to Charmaine, Bronx Health REACH’s Director, “Joseph’s vast experience living in the Bronx, his knowledge of how the community works, it’s residents concerns and interests, and his insider’s views of the culture and values of churches, has been invaluable to Bronx Health REACH’s healthy eating initiatives in the community.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bronx Health REACH Helps Schools Meet Federal Mandate with a New Professional Development Course



Last summer, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) passed a regulation requiring all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program or other federal Child Nutrition programs establish a local school wellness policy.

Bronx Health REACH (BHR) understands that developing a wellness council alone is a challenging process — on top of everything else required of teachers and administrators throughout the year. BHR is making it easier than ever to reach wellness goals in school by offering a three-hour professional development course that helps the designated wellness representative learn all they need to know.

BHR will provide school wellness leaders with the skills, strategies, and knowledge to build wellness policies. The training, "Beyond the Champion: Laying the Foundation for a Successful Wellness Council and Healthier Culture," helps the school community understand the building blocks necessary for a successful wellness council. This training explains how to navigate the current federal school nutrition policies, implement sustainable school wellness policies that fit the school's culture and needs, and promote a consistent message about good nutrition and healthy eating beyond the cafeteria to include beverage and food marketing, healthy celebrations and fundraisers. The training also promotes non-food rewards.

At the end of the training, participants will leave with a wellness policy council toolkit with worksheets, resources and best practices for policy council development, policy writing, revising and implementation, and monitoring/evaluation of policies.

The training will be held on June 8th in the morning at P.S. 294 for all teachers and school nurses in Districts 7, 8, 9, & 12. Parent Coordinators and other school staff who intend to manage the wellness council are encouraged to attend. Breakfast and lunch are provided.

Click to RSVP for the Laying the Foundation for a Successful Wellness Council & Healthier School Culture seminar to be held on Thursday, June 8 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

A second training in Nutrition Education is offered in the afternoon for all participants. The course, "Integrating Nutrition Education and Food Literacy into the Classroom" is led by Marissa Burgermaster, PhD, MAEd, an accomplished nutrition education curriculum expert. In this course, Marissa teaches participants how to incorporate nutrition and food literacy into lessons that motivate students to adopt healthier eating habits. Participants will leave the course with a nutrition education toolkit and plenty of activities and lesson plans to adopt for classroom use.

Click to RSVP for the  Integrating Nutrition Education and Food Literacy Into the Classroom seminar to be held on Thursday, June 8 from 1 to 4 p.m.