School Wellness Learning Forum
Your School Wellness Policy: The Next Step
Download a PDF of these proceedings: Partnership Physical Activity in Schools Learning Forum
Catherine King, School Outreach Coordinator, MA Department of Transportation
Safe Routes to School is a federal program in all 50 states for kindergarten through eighth grade. It works with schools to set up programs to make walking and biking safe and to encourage those activities. Each infrastructure is different, so programs are individually designed to take advantage of what is available.
In Massachusetts becoming a Partner in the Safe Routes to School Program is free and all activities are free. A Safe Routes to School outreach coordinator works with each Partner school to develop activities appropriate for them.
Some strategies used are:
Schools are encouraged to call in media for special events to create community involvement as well as to notify local drivers. Notifying local law enforcement agencies of dates there will be extra pedestrians is also helpful. Getting dignitaries such as mayors to participate helps get attention and participation too. The more adults involved in the programs, the better.
For CDC maps showing obesity trends in the U.S. 1985-2010, visit http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html.
Fuel Up to Play 60 is a partnership of the National Dairy Council and the NFL to promote in-school wellness. In Massachusetts the New England Dairy & Food Council partners with the New England Patriots. Over 3,500 New England schools participate in the program, which helps schools create healthy eating choices and physical activity opportunities. Student leadership is an important focus of the program.
Especially in these times of decreasing school budgets, schools partnering with their Recreation Departments is a valuable way to increase physical activity opportunities by pooling resources and working together toward the common goal of getting kids to be active. Many students aren't interested in traditional sports, and giving them optional activities will get more of them involved.
Recreation Department staff can be at the school when the bell rings to supervise activities that teach life-long skills such as walking, running, climbing, flag football, martial arts, and bike and pedestrian safety. They may bring equipment to supplement the school's. Offering safe, structured environments such as open gyms and outdoor spaces to simply let children play also helps get students moving and socializing in healthy ways. After-school activities help parents, too. A school-recreation department partnership can result in healthier communities.
A simple and inexpensive activity used by the Sandwich Recreation Department is a story trail. Laminated copies of the pages of a children's book are posted on stakes that are placed along a walking path. Parents and children can walk outside together, parents reading to children or children reading to parents.
Recreation Departments can help schools offer nontraditional physical activities at all levels and reach kids who really need the exercise.
A comprehensive physical activity program includes both a strong physical education component and supplementary physical activities. National standards for physical education are set by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, which is associated with the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (NASPE: http://www.aahperd.org/naspe). In Massachusetts, the Department of Education began a review of the Comprehensive School Health Frameworks, which includes the standards for physical education, last year. This work was suspended due to staffing at DESE.
In Springfield, elementary school guidelines stress skill development, middle school guidelines focus on developing the knowledge and skills to participate in team and individual sports, and high school guidelines aim toward lifetime activities and fitness.
Involving school staff enhances programs. For example, a teacher in any discipline may lead activities, and having someone in charge of replacing equipment so that it is ready for the next day's physical education activities increases departmental cooperation.
Other physical activity programs help support schools' physical education and help schools connect with their communities. In addition to the programs discussed by the other speakers, programs suggested were:
Communication among school staff members and with recreation department staff is essential. Creating a dialog with physical education teachers is especially important to have them involved and assure that their equipment and space are being respected.
Getting parent and community involvement is also effective. One way to do this is to have equipment that's typical of fitness centers and invite parents and older community residents as well as students to join for a small fee. This gets parents comfortable going to the school, it gets families involved, and the adults model healthy behavior. It also increases interest in supporting schools by people who don't have school children. The fees can be used to further support the school's physical activity programs.
Having after-school activities for staff increases involvement and modeling of healthy behavior.
Walking Clubs get families as well as students involved. Small rewards such as pencils for mileage goals and medals for completing a marathon can be used as incentives. Awarding beads to add to a bracelet, for example, for miles completed is a visual way to share accomplishment. Another inexpensive and popular activity is creating a virtual walk. North Andover, for example, started a program for fourth and fifth graders with donated pedometers and Appalachian Trail posters. Classes compete against each other, and math teachers are involved by helping tally miles.
While organized sports are beneficial, overuse injuries occur. Alternative activities for students help avoid such injuries. They also offer additional opportunities for success.
Pick-up games have also helped with bullying in addition to increased activity. Opportunities for students to organize their own activities and for everyone to participate as well as rules against trash-talking help create mutual respect.
Challenges schools face, in addition to budgetary concerns, include lack of strong State requirements for the quantity or quality of physical education offered in schools and for physical education teacher certification. Massachusetts Bill S.216, currently in the Joint Committee on Education, would strengthen the physical education teacher certification requirements, improve the quality of physical education, and eliminate the student waiver from taking physical education.
Everyone agreed that schools offering safe and supervised physical activity for students is essential today, when the average distance children travel to play is one-quarter mile, in contrast to eight miles in the 1970s. Children need traditional as well as nontraditional physical activities and opportunities to organize their own activities with adult supervision. Involving staff, parents, and community increases programs' value and effectiveness.
Planning committee members
o Peggy Kocoras, Coordinator, Partnership for a Heart-Healthy, Stroke-Free Massachusetts