Friday, December 4, 2015

Making Strides in Achieving PE for All

For supporters of school wellness, the link between health and academics is apparent. We know that when students are not able to lead healthy lives, it creates both learning and health disparities in low-income communities such as the South Bronx. In New York City, similar to what is happening across the country, schools are faced with the challenge of making sure that all students get adequate physical education. To determine if this is happening, information about New York City’s physical education program should be made public.

The Phys Ed for All Coalition,  of which Bronx Health REACH  is a founding member, advocates for policy, systems and environmental changes that will provide more opportunities for NYC students to receive quality physical education. On November 4th, the coalition celebrated Mayor Bill de Blasio signing into law Intro 644, requiring the New York City Department of Education to report on how much physical education is provided to students in each New York City public school. This is a first of its kind in the country. And as such, one of the PE 4 All Coalition members – the American Heart Association – is aiming to replicate this work nationally. The inaugural report is scheduled to be released publicly by August 2016.

In addition to the required reporting, the New York City Council has added $6.6 million to the New York City Department of Education budget over the next 3 years for the “PE Works Program” to cover central staff for the program, to hire 50 new phys ed teachers, and 4 PE instructors (each covering 2 districts throughout the City). While this all represents very important development in efforts to improve the quantity and quality of PE, we are concerned about the short life span of the funding. By year 4 of the program, schools are expected to fund the PE teachers on their own. How are schools supposed to fund an adequate number of PE teachers for all schools, resolve the problem of overcrowded gyms shared by co-located schools, and schedule adequate time for PE into the school day?

In response to these challenges Bronx Health REACH and one of it’s partners, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, have been educating parents to be better advocates for their children, and raising more awareness about the links between health, physical education, and children’s behavior and academic performance. In addition,the PE 4 All Coalition members have suggested such creative responses to the challenges as: training teachers to provide physical education in small spaces, implementing active recess, using hallway space for physical activity breaks for students who need a break from sitting in the classroom; training school staff to establish wellness councils that can implement wellness policies and take on Active Design projects ensuring that health education and physical education are aligned in ways that lead to demonstrable changes in student behaviors; making physical education a more substantive part of the Principal’s Checklist; and finding ways to incentivize schools that are able to achieve physical education goals through the NYC Excellence in School Wellness Awards.

Bronx Health REACH through its recent Healthy Schools NY  grant and its current Creating Healthy Schools and Communities grant is doing its part by training PE teachers to establish wellness councils and Comprehensive School Physical Activity  Programs. But this should not be the responsibility of outside groups. Making sure that all NYC students receive adequate physical education will ultimately require more financial support than currently allocated. The PE 4 All Coalition will continue to identify and propose solutions that make adequate, quality physical education available for all NYC students, and welcomes new participation in the efforts. Please join us. If you or your school would like to get involved, contact Kelly Moltzen at or Erin George at

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