New York City is big by any standard — population, geographic spread, density and even vertical reach. With more than 1700 schools spread across its five boroughs, it is also the largest school district in the country, serving more than 1 million students.
New York City has often led the way on innovative public health policies. But when it came to the next generation of New Yorkers, the city struggled to provide enough effective physical activity during the school day. In 2010, the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Committee began exploring why schools couldn’t expand the time spent on physical education, only to quickly realize schools were not able to comply with the existing state standards for PE class time which fall below national benchmarks.
Fueled by questions related to why schools were struggling to meet existing PE standards, the American Heart Association conducted a survey in 2012 to better understand the obstacles faced by school administrators.The survey data further demonstrated the call-to-action for lawmakers, school officials, parents and advocacy groups to mobilize efforts.
Entitled, “Physical Education in New York City: Ignoring the 800 lb. gorilla” the survey found that the vast majority of students weren’t receiving the recommended minutes of PE, PE classes were commonly not taught by certified PE instructors and that nearly half of the city’s schools lacked adequate space for physical activity. Coupled with similar research achieved by the City Comptroller, the Women’s City Club and other partners, the findings became a wakeup call for New York City policymakers and a rallying point for the community.
As a result of this effort, the city’s Phys Ed 4 All Coalition was formed. Joining with like-minded partners from education, social justice, immigrant rights and other circles, the new group mobilized quickly to change the reality in city schools.
The coalition worked to pass a law in November 2015 requiring school reporting on PE throughout the city. The report card, the first of which will be issued in August 2016, will be housed on the city’s website, allowing parents and community advocates to better understand the limitations of PE in their schools.
As a result of this increased awareness for effective PE, the city has now devoted significant funding to help improve the quality of physical education for all students. In FY 16, City Council dedicated a $6.6M appropriation that helped create the PE Works program which marked the city’s first ever allocation dedicated to hiring more physical education staff. And this year, Mayor de Blasio earmarked $9M in the FY 17 budget to begin hiring certified PE teachers for all elementary schools currently without one.
Moving forward, the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Committee and the Phys Ed 4 All Coalition remain vigilant. They intend on improving the city’s PE report card, outlining more detail about the curriculum being used in city schools, the types of space being used for PE, or how many students are allowed to substitute the PE requirement for another activity.