It’s Back

CPS is back in session and with it, the PTA Advisory Council Committee.

I seriously don’t understand why more parents don’t attend this monthly meeting. Although like many open meetings in the city, it is held downtown during the workday, it is absolutely a wonderful pipeline to new initiatives and information coming out of CPS and a great way to network with other involved parents within the system. It is not limited to PTA members or member PTA representatives, although we encourage and support members of the group to join the PTA. Our CPS host is Carl Hurdlik, Community Coordinator within the FACE office, and our PTA moderator is Cassandra Eddings, a parent and volunteer who can be reached at ilptaadvisory at gmail dot com.

Our meeting today focused on a presentation from Andy Pickett and Jamie Tully with the LearnWell initiative. Part of the overall Healthy Schools campaign, CPS’s LearnWell initiative centers on physical education within CPS, and is functionally organized under the Office of Health and Wellness. Is CPS really listening to parents and community members? I couldn’t tell you, although the existence of this entirely grant-funded department/initiative suggests to me that they are.

Andy and Jamie shared with us an overview of a new CPS Physical Education policy that covers everything from suggested instructional minutes and methods to individual waivers to inclusion techniques. A central idea is that children should have 60 minutes of physical activity each day, or 150 minutes of P.E. time each week. For this fall, the LearnWell team has started a pilot program called 30/20/10 in 36 elementary and high schools. Under the pilot, children have 30 minutes of P.E., 20 minutes of recess, and 10 minutes of classroom exercise each day.

Sounds great, right?

Right. Except that right now, there are little to no funds to support this policy, which will become a mandate when the BoE votes on it in October 2013. As a Blaine parent articulated and the LearnWell team confirmed, there are no budgetary concessions for this within the restrictive per-pupil allotments under which all District schools must now work. And I believe Andy and Jamie when they said that they understand the physical and budgetary constraints under which the vast majority of schools must work. But I’m not concerned about my kids having to go through gym class in a field, on a sidewalk, or within a hallway–all (good) suggestions made by the LearnWell team. I’m concerned because this kind of unfunded mandate stuff from CPS is maddening and ongoing.

The Boy has had daily recess and weekly P.E. classes since he started kindergarten six years ago, so I get the importance of free play and daily movement. Indeed, Andy pointed to research in the Kansas City schools that said behavior problems plummeted when children had daily physical activity. And his team’s professional development meeting in August drew a crowd to its training and informational sessions. But even with the team’s proposed three-year gradual policy rollout, the fact remains that school administrators must identify and budget for P.E. instruction within their schools.

To encourage creativity and provide some financial support for schools that are willing to identify Wellness Champions, create Health and Wellness Committees, and really engage around student activity, the LearnWell team will release an RFP on October 1st under which schools can apply for small grants of up to $2500 to implement wellness initiatives in their communities.

In addition, the LearnWell team will work to educate parents, principals, and teachers about the role of P.E. in high schools. While elementary children in Illinois are only required to have gym once/week, the ISBE waiver permitting CPS to bypass gym requirements for its students in 9th and 10th grades will end at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 academic year.

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