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When report cards arrive, vigilant parents turn immediately to what could be a confounding and heart-stopping grade in a subject with no bearing on academic averages: Gym.
That's right, gym, also known as physical education or PE. At least a dozen high school seniors I know are either failing it, coming close or getting lackluster marks like 70. And some of these are terrific students, headed to top colleges.
Can schools please stop giving out grades in gym?
I agree that if students repeatedly don't show up to gym class, they shouldn't pass. I also understand the frustration gym teachers must have when kids show up for gym in impossibly tight skinny jeans or skimpy dresses and platform shoes.
Six in ten city schools have physical education classes only once or twice a week for 45 minutes, way below what the state education department mandates, according to a new American Heart Association (AHA) report based on a survey of public and charter schools in all five boroughs.
It's the city's youngest students who are most likely to miss out on vital PE time, says the Women's City Club of New York (WCC), a non-profit civic organization, that advocates for more physical education in all schools. Elementary grades do not have enough teachers citywide to meet state PE regulations, based on WCC's analysis of Independent Budget Office data. Yet, according to New York state regulations, the youngest children are supposed to get the most exercise. The rules call for daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students.
Middle school students have enough gym teachers and high schools, which require students to earn two PE credits in order to graduate, have a surplus of PE teachers, according to the IBO data.
City public schools with tight budgets and shared buildings struggle to provide adequate physical education, especially in our era of high stakes testing.
But prioritizing test-prep over PE is misguided, say advocates of physical education in schools. Studies show that, "not only does PE help curb obesity, but it also increases test scores and grades," said Amy Schwartz, chairperson of the Physical Education in City Public Schools Task Force, a project of the Womens City Club of New York.
On Thursday at 3 pm, on the steps of City Hall, the Womens City Club will join forces with the American Heart Association and City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Robert Jackson, Letitia James and Gale Brewer to ask the city's Department of Education to right their phys ed wrongs and bring city schools up to state-mandated standards. The Women's City Club will release a new report, which "raises questions about the fairness and equity of PE provisions in City public schools," according to Womens City Club's website. The American Heart Association will release theresults of its survey of PE classes in city schools.
In 2011, Womens City Club prompted Comptroller John Liu to audit the city's schools, revealing that most do not meet state-mandated PE standards: daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students. This latest report is based on data from the city's Internal Budget Office.
What's on your child's school lunch tray this week? Want to improve it?
Check out LUNCH LINE, a mobile app and website which launched this week, created by students at City-as-School High School. LUNCH LINE allows you to post pictures and comment on your school's daily school lunch page and to join or start a school group to organize improvements and advocate for better food.
"It's a tool for parents," said City-as senior Emma Jenney who was one of 12 students in Naima Freitas' biology class last spring who designed the app with the help of an outside programmer and designer. "It's exposing school food in America right now which has been kind of a hidden thing."
As part of the project, students visited elementary school lunchrooms to see what young children eat and how much they throw away, she said. The students compared the average cafeteria meal offerings to those provided at some 30 schools which subscribe to Wellness in the Schools programs. Wellness schools offer alternative menus. They use the same ingredients as those provided by the Education Department's Office of School Food, but they prepare the meals differently. And they train the kitchen staff on how to cook healthier meals.
For some families, back to school means new clothes and school supply shopping. But if your child has asthma, food allergies or any condition that requires medication in school, you’ll have to add something else to the list: medical forms. You may need the Medication Administration Form (MAF), Asthma Action Plan, or a Section 504 form to ensure your child has a safe school experience
The MAF allows students to receive the medications they need at school. The Asthma Action Plan is developed with your doctor to help control your child’s asthma. But too few families have these forms. According to the New York City Department of Health, in 2009, only 65% of children who should have a form on file actually did. Food allergies can be fatal, as in the case of a Canadian school girl who died at school because her condition was not properly recognized by school officials.
Five Manhattan moms started composting programs in their schools' cafeterias this year that saved 450 pounds of food waste from landfills daily and reduced the volume of cafeteria garbage by 85% in eight schools over four months.
The parents, members of the District 3 Green Schools Group, were part of a pilot program designed to test the viability of separating and composting food waste – including meat and dairy, kitchen scraps, and sugar cane food service trays.
"We were upset that we were paying for sugar cane compostable trays and they were being thrown in the garbage," said Emily Fano, a parent at PS 166, one of the eight participating schools in four buildings.
I read Alan Schwartz's frightening front page New York Times piece on the kind of Sunday night when I could have used a performance boost myself – something I'm sure lots of working parents feel in the waning weekend hours.
Oh, for a rush of adrenaline to finish unwanted chores in full efficiency mode, instead of a lazy desire to watch the Mad Men season finale curled up with a glass of wine.
Yet here it was, nearly midnight, and I still had stories to edit, laundry to fold, school lunches to make and those endless permission slips and end-of-the-year forms to fill out.
My family's turn to provide afternoon snacks for my daughter’s 1st-grade class comes up next week, and I'm anxiously awaiting the backlash. When you make dietary choices for 23 New York City kids, only one of whom is yours, some other parent will often take exception.
It's easy to frame the classroom snack debate in broad terms such as cupcakes vs. carrot sticks. The prevalence of sugary cupcakes in elementary classrooms received so much attention that one school district banned them outright. But cupcakes are (forgive me for mixing food terms) a red herring. You don't give a kid a cupcake and kid yourself you're serving health food.
The problem occurs when the little kids are served food that appears healthy but is actually more dessert than snack.
I stood frozen in front of the principal's white board—it's the first thing you see when you arrive at my son's elementary school.
The principal writes an inspiring message on it every day. A point of etiquette. A new vocabulary word. Or something sweet and simple like welcome back from a vacation or a cheery observation about the weather. All the kids read it. The parents, too. Today, this was the message:
We will be going to go around with a jar of treats, the class which estimates closest to the correct number wins the jar!!!
What are we talking about here? Hundreds of treats? Thousands? I can't take it anymore. My son's school has been co-opted by Willy Wonka.
Physical education programs in New York City public schools are woefully inadequate. An October audit by the City Comptroller's office showed that few schools meet the state standards, which call for daily PE for grades K-3; three times a week for grades 4-6, and 90 minutes a week for older students.
The comptroller's audit was prompted by the Women's City Club of New York (WCC) a non-profit civic organization, whose members advocate for more physical education in all schools. They point to studies showing the correlation between academic success in school and physical fitness. (Alec Appelbaum blogged about this topic for Insideschools last year.)
Now, WCC members are speaking out again about the importance of phys ed in schools. In a taped interview which will air on Sunday morning, Dr. Katherine S. Lobach, a member of the WCC Task Force on Physical Education in City Schools, says, "We need more school administrators to recognized the academic value of physical education and more parents to insiste that their children get it."
Watch the interview and learn how you can help get your child's school to offer more phys ed and exercise.