Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bronx Health REACH District 9 Physical Activity & Education Assessment

This small enclosure at a Bronx public school is considered to be an acceptable space for physical fitness.

Physical activity has been shown to have innumerable benefits. Exercise has been shown to improve student focus on school tasks and raise performance scores. It is also known that physical activity lowers the risk of childhood obesity and other chronic diseases which enables students to develop habits for a healthier adulthood.

Often, due to limited resources (e.g. funding, staffing, time, and physical space) many city schools are not able to meet student physical activity and physical education needs. According to the New York City Comptroller report, “Dropping the Ball: Disparities in Physical Education in New York City Schools,” over 32 percent of NYC schools lack a full-time, certified PE instructor. What’s more, 28 percent of schools lack a designated space for physical fitness.

To better understand student access to physical activity in the Bronx, Bronx Health REACH has been assessing physical activity and physical education in District 9. Each of the thirty-one public elementary schools in the district were surveyed to determine what space each school has for indoor and outdoor physical activity and physical education; and the quantity of PE the students were receiving. Each school principal was contacted by phone, email, and in person to complete the surveys.

The findings, to date, reveal that 75% of the schools surveyed have an indoor gymnasium space, and 17% of the schools surveyed lack a fully functioning playground. Disturbingly, only 8% of the schools are meeting the weekly physical education recommendation of 120 minutes for K through 12 students. The final findings of the assessment will be reported widely to staff, parents and students of District 9, as well as with community members and leaders. Bronx Health REACH will present the findings to the District 9 Community Education Council in September. As part of the report, Bronx Health REACH will propose solutions to improve those spaces with Active Design and broader policy recommendations.

In response to the initial findings of the assessment and to begin addressing the deficiencies, Bronx Health REACH is partnering with Grant Avenue Elementary School on their current Active Design Project to create a more engaging play yard. Grant Avenue Elementary School is a co-located school sharing the space with a middle school and high school. At present the outdoor space is a barren, narrow strip of concrete, and even more disturbing to the students and parents, the school’s play yard faces a fully-functioning playground of the neighboring school. Students and staff at Grant Avenue Elementary School have developed a creative solution to their small space - an imagination playground, which features movable pieces (“big blue blocks”) that allow for more dynamic and creative play compared to the fixed structures of a typical playground. Grant Avenue Elementary School’s imagination playground should be ready for students by this fall.

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