By Dennis Peters, Guest Blogger
Dennis Peters is a physical education teacher at Belmont-Cragin Elementary School in Chicago.
Belmont-Cragin Elementary School is a PK-8 school located on the northwest side of Chicago. We have 629 students in grades ranging from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. We have worked with CLOCC staff for the past several years in our efforts to meet the HealthierUS Schools Challenge. (We have achieved Bronze status but are still working toward Gold!) In 2013, CLOCC released a ten-year plan for Chicago called the Blueprint for Accelerating Progress in Childhood Obesity Prevention in Chicago: The Next Decade, and I read the schools recommendations with great interest. They are in line with the work we are doing here at Belmont-Cragin, so I am happy to share our efforts to support the Blueprint recommendations here at our school.
Our Principal, Stacy Stewart, has always been a champion, recognizing that an improved Physical Education (P.E.) curriculum and getting students more active throughout the school day has academic benefits for the students. She supported my initiative to adopt a new evidence-based P.E. curriculum that engages students in more moderate to vigorous physical activity than our previous curriculum did. This adoption of a more vigorous P.E. program supports Goal 1 for Schools in the Blueprint: Ensure all schools in Chicago support healthy eating and physical activity for students.
We have gone even further. Here are just a few of the initiatives we have implemented that support Goal 1 of the Blueprint:
- Daily classroom physical activity through a program that includes “deskercises” for our K-5 classes
- A 20-minute walking program before ISAT testing last spring, including the distribution of water bottles to the students and education for the staff on the importance of water and exercise
- Nutrition education and lunch menus that follow USDA requirements
- A healthy celebrations policy so school and classroom celebrations are healthier
I attribute the trend toward health, wellness, and enhanced physical education in our school to strong leadership from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office of Student Health and Wellness. This office works to increase the quality of health services and wellness environments through collaboration, and has been assisting schools in enhance P.E. throughout Chicago. Part of their focus has been on providing professional development for staff. Since September 2012, the Physical Education Leadership Team (PELT), convened by CPS, has provided six professional development training days designed to familiarize teachers with enhanced P.E. and the neuroscience research supporting it.
Our health and wellness efforts have also been driven by the introduction of CPS’ 30+20+10 Program at our school. This includes 30 minutes of daily P.E. for every student, 20 minutes of meaningful recess each day, and 10 minutes of physical activity in the classroom. I have attended training for this entire program, and Mr. Pallante, one of our 7th grade teachers, is receiving training to be the coordinator of the classroom physical activity – or, as we like to call it, Movement Intervention. All of these training efforts directly support Blueprint Objective 1-4: Increase capacity of school staff to implement physical activity and nutrition education strategies.
I am optimistic about the focus CPS has taken to enhance Physical Education, especially with the Chicago Board of Education’s passage of a new comprehensive P.E. policy in January of 2014. However, I know many schools will face difficulties in light of CPS budget constraints. We know we have to hire additional Physical Education teachers in order to have daily P.E. available to all students, and this could be a challenge. While our resources may be tight, Belmont-Cragin is a school that has sought opportunities for collaboration and improvement and is seeing the results.
I encourage my students by showing them their improvements, and I make a big deal out of the strides that they make in their health and wellness. I even showcase their achievements to the administration. I am proud of my students, fellow staff, and administration at Belmont-Cragin for making student health and wellness a priority. I am also proud that we are part of a larger citywide initiative to put Chicago children on a healthier path by supporting the CLOCC Blueprint. I encourage other schools to join us and to share your efforts with CLOCC. Together, we can accelerate progress in childhood obesity prevention in Chicago through this work!
Parts of this post were adapted from the Illinois Public Health Institute Belmont-Cragin Elementary School case study. We thank them for permission to use this content.