Whether top-down mandates come up short of funds or bottom-up campaigns prove hard to execute, children in the Big Apple’s public school system get too little physical education. The state demands that two hours of class time each week go to phys ed, but hardly any school complies. Our Excellence in School Wellness award, now in its third year, proves that schools want to comply- and that when you let school communities realistically chase the programs they find feasible, kids get in better shape.
Our award will go to 74 schools next month, for crafting changes to nutrition and fitness education at no new cost. The winning communities work in high-obesity areas of northern Manhattan, eastertn Queens, the South Bronx and parts of Brooklyn. Rather than sit on their hands, parent-staff coalitions at these schools reached out to form lasting phys-ed structures. Schools tagged partners like New York Road Runners or Wellness in the Schools, formed committees to fortify the cafeteria pickings, or figured out ways to stomp around underused nearby parks. And kids responded- one teacher in East Harlem says boys and girls jockey in the halls when they see her, eager for the chance to make lentil hummus.
The Excellence in School Wellness award makes a mix of grassroots commitment, professional service, and academic leadership. It can scale across the city much faster than the state or city government seem likely to supply anything like the funding for its mandates. Yet the award is currently assembling sponsors- who are all cutting budgets following this year’s city cuts. It will survive- but whether it will scale depends on how patiently its caretakers push it from the bottom and the top to the front.