We started SavePhysEd with a push from the New York City Strategic Alliance for Health, a five-year project that studied how changes in daily school life can help youth affirm fitness as part of their lives. The Alliance set a baseline by going out and asking how kids get physical education. It quickly began to see that many K-5 students are not getting enough physical education. Some are getting none.
From a survey, the Alliance created an Excellence in School Wellness award to recognize teams at specific schools who forged healthier school environments with little central funding. They used dance, wellness classes, volunteers and partnerships with nonprofits but they constantly saw themselves as playing catchup. So through huddling and mobilizing, we created SavePhysEd to spark fitness projects throughout the school system.
When we convened a coalition about organizing for change, we found plenty of teachers fluent about how 120 minutes of phys ed each week can sync with other school-day demands. We found parents chary about an education that strips out phys ed, but unsure where to stitch phys ed into the system. We learned that productive school leaders kept forming new alliances to add health education. Schools tapped parents and vendors to teach dance class, nutrition, or movement within the classroom. Their offerings grew. But their leaders told us in interviews that they want to serve more students and want to track the learning of the students they serve more fully.
We kick off our work with a simple fix.
We propose connecting schools that lack phys ed with teachers who can give it, in city parks. To make these connections tight, we need parents to do a little work educating themselves about what phys ed their children are getting. Then we’ll help parents up the amount, and intensity, of phys ed in their kids’ lives. Here’s how to start.
PHYS ED IN PARKS AND PARTNERSHIPS
The fullest expression would be an Office of Physical Education Partnerships inside NYCDOE, like the one that coordinates arts programs. What works for arts education can work for physical education. Many school leaders expand learning time with afterschool programs and expand learning breadth through partnerships with nonprofit organizations. These partnerships scale while they add little or no cost. If they gain the staff and software of a full office, they can also spread to reach higher-need populations that can’t find other space or funds.
We speak after seeing partnerships as well as from reading data. Consider one of the many schools where it’s impractical to pay a full-time phys ed teacher working in a dedicated space. Say the school moves dance into the classroom. Students learn to focus more fully and their studies benefit. But only a small percentage of the school can tap these benefits at a time. If the school leadership could store sign-ups on a database and could send dozens of students to the dance teacher afterschool or during a lunch period, benefits might accrue.
Children could get to know a broader net of caring adults. In afterschool settings, they could gain physical education with their parents or neighbors from other schools. Schools could coordinate custom offerings for their communities. Principals could hook into a central office that can streamline detail work. And park managers could work on a new platform for partnerships with neighbors, one that can easily extend to cleanup days and friends groups. This parallels much of what goes on with the Office of Arts Coordination, adding the vibrant bond with parks. The shift we must make recognizes physical education as equal to arts in utility for whole learning.