This post was written by Victor Gidarisingh, Program Coordinator for the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities program.
When New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released his report, “Dropping the Ball: Disparities in Physical Education in New York City Schools,” which points out that many NYC schools have not been meeting the state mandate for physical education, due to a number of challenges such as insufficient numbers of certified physical education instructors, limited training for existing teachers, and space constraints, in effect, he was declaring that physical education, which had not been a priority in New York City public elementary schools now was. Through that report, Comptroller Stringer was speaking for schools in Districts 7, 8, 9, and 12. I had visited these schools through the winter and spring and witnessed that they did indeed lack adequate staffing, space, and resources for physical education.
A few weeks ago I found myself downtown at City Hall, not to have a leisurely stroll on the Brooklyn Bridge, but to represent Bronx Health REACH, a member of the Phys Ed for All Coalition. I was there to provide testimony supporting increased funding for PE in New York City public schools, especially those in the South Bronx. Even though physical education mattered to me, as I was sitting in the Committee Room at City Hall for the first time in my life, I was not certain if that was the case for the other strange and important audience members also assembled to provide testimony.
After waiting almost four hours to be called, it was my turn to give testimony. As I reached out and gripped the microphone I felt my heart leap to my throat. I felt like a rookie quarterback, called up to play in the fourth quarter preparing for the final drive. But my team was those South Bronx schools in Districts 7, 8, 9, and 12, and I needed to deliver for them. Tucking my chin, I testified that those schools in the South Bronx, specifically those in Districts 7 and 12 had not been beneficiaries of the PE Works program, while District 9 schools with the program had made great strides. As I made this point, I could see Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson nod approvingly as this is her district. I went on to emphasize that physical activity should not be divorced from the academic achievement in students through integrated learning. I assured the Council members that PE would flourish if funding made its way to those districts that needed it the most, like those in the South Bronx. When it does, students attending those Bronx schools will not only improve their health outcomes, but their academic outcomes will also improve.