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Friday, December 8, 2017

School Aides Conquer Active Recess with Fit4Life Structured Play Training



Starting off with heart-pumping exercise, hip hop music and a lot of high-fives, a Bronx Health REACH sponsored physical activity training reminded 20 schools aides and 2 physical education teachers how much fun physical activity can be. By the end of the three hour training held on September 19th at PS443, aides were laughing and fully engaged in Fit4Life’s Play With Purpose interactive program.

Fit4Life Executive Director, Maurelhena Walles who facilitated the class, reminded the aides, “If you look like you are having fun, the students will too.”

Bronx Health REACH coordinated the Physical Activity for School Aides training at the suggestion of the District 9 Superintendent's Office who saw a need for school aide training in physical activity. Bronx Health REACH chose partner, Fit4life, a nonprofit organization that provides teachers and school staff with the tools to bring active play, character development, and healthy competition back into the classroom and onto the school playground, to run the training.


During the three hour training, Ms. Walles taught aides how to structure a class, about the gross motor skills of K-1 vs 4-5th graders, and what progressive learning looks like in an active setting. Using the Play with Purpose model, Ms. Walles taught the aides approaches to traditional and non-traditional sports, dance, fitness and movement-based programming that focuses on boosting a youth's self-confidence, maximizing the amount of time one moves, minimizing competition, encouraging sportsmanship and promoting a lifetime of activity. 

Ms. Walles pointed out that, “Teacher Aides play a significant role in the education of a child. To empower them with tools on not just what to do in the class, but rather why they are teaching a particular game or activity and how to teach is powerful. Once someone understands and owns the fact that they do indeed play a role in the education of children. Once a person understands that (active) learning, team-building, leadership and communication takes place during Structured Recess, the perspective changes.” School aide Nancy Vega added, “I had a lot of fun at the training and the techniques we learned will be very useful at recess.”

Bronx Health REACH coordinates professional development trainings in physical activity and nutrition education throughout the year as part of the services they provide to Bronx schools in education districts 7, 8, 9 and 12. If your school is interested in district-wide training in nutrition education, physical activity, competitive food marketing/ guidelines,  school wellness for teachers, staff and parents, parent engagement support or training in any of our five wellness toolkits, Email Moria Byrne-Zaaloff, Program Coordinator for Creating Healthy Schools and Communities at Bronx Health REACH or call (212) 633-0800 x 1287.



NY Watershed Takeaways for Health


New York City water is high quality and safe to drink. Careful steps are taken through the process of collecting, testing and transporting the water to your home. 

This post was written by Bronx Health REACH staff members Kelly Moltzen and Emily Oppenheimer.

In September 2017, we toured the Croton region of the watershed with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In NYC, water is collected from two main regions: (1) Catskill Delaware and (2) the Croton System. Since its creation through the present, the system has been committed to transporting high quality water.

Water is essential for health and cognition, yet water intake among children and adults is below the recommended levels nationally. The alternative to water is often sugar-sweetened beverages, which are strongly linked to obesity. Bronx Health REACH has taken many steps to promote water as the healthiest alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages.


Throughout the tour, we were impressed by the steps taken to ensure high water quality. The DEP uses the natural ecology of the land to manage the system:  trees and other forest plants naturally filter the water. The DEP is also growing new forests to further the natural filtration process. The DEP approaches new forests with resiliency planning, by planting new trees that are acclimated to warmer regions. NYC uses a pure, natural water source, and over 90% of the water does not need to be filtered. There are only three other cities in the US that have water sources that don’t need filtration, which include Boston, Seattle and San Francisco. All water goes through quality testing before being delivered to NYC. The water is clean and safe: UV rays are used to stop the replication of microorganisms in the water.


The NYC watershed system was created in the 1840’s to ensure safe and clean water would be accessible to all people. Prior to the creation of the watershed system, unsafe water led to infectious diseases like cholera. Construction began in 1837 on the Old Croton Aqueduct, which was led by immigrant labor. Many people in the region lost their homes to make way to build the new infrastructure. In NYC we owe our gratitude to those who lived in upstate New York during this time and sacrificed their homes for our water. This system ran south to the Highbridge in the Bronx, and helped to deliver water to Manhattan. Although Highbridge is presently used as a pedestrian walking bridge, it was originally created and used as an aqueduct.

Since the creation of the water system, the DEP, in collaboration with NY communities, take many steps to ensure the water collection and surrounding region is high quality. Historically, the NYC water system has improved our health for generations. It vastly improved public health in the past by providing a clean water source to all. Presently, it also provides a healthy beverage to all.

To learn more, visit:

The New York Times article, How New York City Gets Its Water

New York City Department Environmental Protection 

NYC 2016 Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report





Monday, October 9, 2017

The Bronx Salad Makes its Debut at BronxWorks



The Bronx Salad made its debut on the BronxWorks menu this spring! The Bronx Salad initially planned as part of a healthy menu initiative with local restaurants has expanded beyond restaurants. It is now served at schools, after school programs and bodegas. There is even now The Bronx Salad Toolkit for Schools recently created by Bronx Health REACH and Grow to Learn NYC. BronxWorks adapted “The Bronx Salad” Toolkit for Schools.

On the rooftop garden of the BronxWorks Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center, afterschool students grew and harvested many of the Bronx salad ingredients including cilantro, corn and kale. The Program Coordinator from the afterschool program, Project Achieve, and the Horticulturalist at BronxWorks guided participants in growing the ingredients. Engaging the children throughout the process of growing, harvesting, preparing, and eating the Bronx Salad included conducting more than 60 lessons addressing nutrition and gardening. Many of the ingredients of the Bronx Salad were explored by the children in the classroom through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities.

Kim Wong, a program director at BronxWorks explained, “Feedback on the salad has been very positive and we plan to continue to grow the salad ingredients in our roof top garden and offer it in our BronxWorks afterschool program meals as well as at our BronxWorks meetings and events.” The Bronx Salad has been served to over 600 participants in children, teen, and adult programs. The salad was such a huge hit that it will now be offered once a month at the afterschool program.

So far, the Bronx Salad Toolkit for Schools and starter seed kit has been given out to over fifteen schools in the South Bronx and grown and harvested in five of those. To learn how to grow the Bronx Salad in your school garden, download The Bronx Salad Toolkit.

Universal PE Initiative Makes Gym a Priority for New York City Schools



In June 2017, New York City Mayor de Blasio and city leadership announced the city’s Universal Physical Education (PE) Initiative which will provide all schools with a designated space for PE by 2021. The initiative will invest approximately $385 million over the next four years in Capital funding to improve at least 200 schools, out of a total of 1,629, that do not currently have a gymnasium. The first phase will focus on 76 schools that do not have any designated PE space. Thirteen Bronx schools will be renovated in the first phase of the Universal PE Initiatitve.

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 state of physical education in the South Bronx, Bronx Health REACH (BHR) conducted a district-wide assessment of PE in 2015/16. The assessment looked at PE instruction and gym spaces in South Bronx District 9 elementary schools. The assessment revealed that only 8% of the schools are meeting the weekly physical education recommendation of 120 minutes for K through 12 students.

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.  One such school is Grant Ave Elementary School which is bringing ‘Big Blue Blocks’ to turn their empty yard into a playground. Another is 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.

Universal PE will build upon the Mayor’s PE Works initiative, a groundbreaking, multi-year, $100 million investment launched in April 2016 that envisions PE as a core component of the school curriculum. Not only is PE Works addressing space constraints, but it is also developing a K-12 PE Scope and Sequence so that teachers, administrators, and parents have a shared understanding of the benchmarks of good PE instruction for students at all grades. By June 2019, with the staffing of nearly 500 new certified PE teachers in elementary schools that previously had none, all elementary schools are expected to meet State PE requirements.

BHR as a long-time member of the Phys Ed (PE) 4 All Coalition, is actively engaged in efforts to increasing access to physical education in New York City public schools. The PE4All Coalition includes members from community-based organizations, advocates, parents, educators, and health professionals united by shared concerns about child health in schools. The PE4All coalition has taken the multi-pronged approach to achieving the goal of all NYC public school students provided with quality PE through: (1) community education, (2) outreach and (3) legislative advocacy. To learn more about this coalition and how to get involved, visit the PE4All website.