Like Dennis Walcott, I have made good on a promise to cook waffles in a public school. And like Walcott, I'm pretty fit. In fact, I also volunteered to teach a little yoga session in the same pre-K classroom where I made waffles. (I focused on "poses you can sneak in while standing in line.") But that's about as much as I can realistically do to give parents more leverage in improving their schools' phys-ed. Walcott can do a lot more.
Parent volunteers should be able to supplement, and host phys-ed events in any school. Parent involvement has busted through bureaucracy in other areas so fitness shouldn't be a dead zone. Consider: parents run the splashy fundraisers that, offering Lady Gaga tickets and all, have given crucial boosts to East Village standouts like PS 363. The agency where my wife works, Cypress Hills LDC, helped parents and others win a new school building to relieve overcrowding.
So why isn't there a system for using volunteers to supplement the many gaps in phys-ed?
The volunteer model is well-established, but it's not systematic. I once wrote in New York magazine about a patent lawyer who taught track and field at a Catholic school in his spare time; and on our last visit to PS 29 in Brooklyn, Insideschools met a father who worked nights and coached basketball during the school's lunch period. Probably every district has such dedicated volunteers, but we can't rely solely on Type-A parents to volunteer during the school day.
It's hard to find a procedure for sustaining parent-led fitness throughout the school year. Parents are busy -- even I, with my flexible hours, couldn't return for another yoga class- -and the logistics of a parent-volunteer network are perhaps the last thing the slow-to-digitize paperwork system at DOE can handle.
As a start, why not keep it focused? A school could give parents the chance to run a sports-choice fair early in the year - maybe on one of the half-days that have parents scrambling for childcare anyway. Or what about combining parent-teacher conferences with parent-student games? A quick relay race could be a real icebreaker.
Parents have a lot of creativity, a lot of authority, and a lot of reasons to get fit themselves. If the DOE wants to remove some of the shackles keeping students unfit, it should beat a path for more parent volunteering.
That path, like everything else, should supplement gym class rather than substituting for it. For too many kids and parents, school is too often a breathless rush between long periods of sitting still. More entry points for more parents can let in a lot more air.
What makes hearts race in your school? Tell us about a volunteer with impact and share your ideas for success.