Monday, October 9, 2017

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.

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