Healthy Schools

Study calls for daily PE classes

A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that instituting daily physical education classes for children would boost moderate to vigorous physical activity by 23 minutes a day, more than one-third of the 60 minutes recommended by federal guidelines.

Students at Red Hawk Elementary participate in an all-school movement break with Principal Cyrus Weinberger. <em>Photo courtesy of  Red Hawk Elementary School</em>

The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, assessed a variety of policy changes, quantifying each based on the amount of physical activity it would add to a child’s day.

In addition to adding daily P.E. classes, the study found that incorporating classroom physical activity breaks and increasing walking or biking to school would also make a significant dent in the recommended minimum. Physical activity breaks would add 19 minutes a day and walking or biking to school would add 16 minutes a day.

Despite the federal recommendation that children 6-17 get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, only 49 percent of Colorado children 5-14 reached that threshold, according to 2011 data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie is one school that bucks the trend. With the help of its “All-School Movement Program,” students routinely get nearly an hour of physical activity and sometimes more during the school day.

Physical activity minutes related to policy changes

  • Requiring daily P.E.: 23 minutes
  • Providing classroom physical activity breaks: 19 minutes
  • Increasing walking or bicycling to school: 16 minutes
  • Renovating parks to include more equipment and opportunities for activity: 12 minutes
  • Increasing after-school physical activity programs: 10 minutes
  • Standardizing P.E. curricula to increase active time and decrease inactive time: 6 minutes more than traditional P.E.
  • Modifying school playgrounds: 6 minutes
  • Modifying recess to provide more play equipment that encourages physical activity: 5 minutes more than traditional recess
  • Increasing park access: 1 minute

The school, which opened in 2011, mandates a 20-minute physical activity break in the morning and a similar 10-20 minute activity break in the afternoon. That’s in addition to a 20-minute daily recess and a 45-minute physical education class once or twice a week.

Red Hawk Principal Cyrus Weinberger said the school’s leadership team made sure physical activity breaks were built into the schedule from the very beginning.

“We were very careful to develop things so it was easy for teachers to implement,” he said.

Classes can choose from a menu of options for their physical activity breaks, which precede math and science, the most challenging academic subjects. Activities include things like dancing, jumping rope, outdoor relay races or a power walking circuit dubbed the Red Hawk Walk. On Friday mornings, the 20-minute morning break is a school-wide affair with students, teachers, and even some support staff and parents participating in a fast-paced dance or exercise routine together.

Last June, the school was recognized for its movement program with a $100,000 award in the Active Schools Acceleration Project Innovation Competition. The project is coordinated by ChildObesity180, an organization at Tufts University that aims to reverse the trend of childhood obesity within one generation’s time.

Weinberger said Red Hawk was named a national winner largely because the effort was easy to scale and inexpensive.

“Our next level of work is integrating more movement into the academic part of the day,” he said.

Under a 2011 Colorado law, elementary schools must give their students opportunities to be physically active for at least 600 minutes a month, or about 30 minutes a day. The requirement can be satisfied through p.e. classes, recess, physical activity breaks, or field trips and classroom activities that include physical activity.

Kyle Legleiter, a public policy officer for the Colorado Health Foundation, said while there is currently no hard data on whether and how districts are complying with the law, anecdotal evidence indicates that many schools are making changes. Some have brought in coaches to make recess a more structured, physically active part of the day. Others have updated their physical education curriculums or redesigned their playgrounds to encourage more active play.

“The law has really helped them to raise the profile of this issue,” he said.

one hurdle down

Bill to ban corporal punishment in schools get first approval from Colorado House

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at the AXL Academy in Aurora worked in pairs or small groups to solve math problems.

Colorado’s House of Representatives gave initial approval Monday to a bill that would ban corporal punishment in public schools and day care centers that receive state funds.

The bill, sponsored by Denver Democrat Rep. Susan Lontine, would forbid adults from using physical harm as punishment for students.

“It’s not OK for adults to hit each other,” Lontine said. “It should not be OK for adults to hit children — ever.”

Colorado is one of 19 states that has not outlawed the practice. However, reported incidents of corporal punishment are rare.

That’s one reason why some Republicans who disavow corporal punishment still oppose the bill.

“We’ve heard there is not a problem,” said Minority Leader Rep. Patrick Neville, a Douglas County Republican. Schools are “already dealing with this. Let’s let our local school districts do what they’ve been doing.”

Lontine’s bill won bipartisan support from the House Education Committee. Given the Democrats’ wide majority in the House, the bill is expected to win final approval Tuesday. But it’s unclear what sort of reception the bill will receive in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chris Holbert, a Douglas County Republican, said he hasn’t read the bill yet. But he said he is always concerned about education policy violating local school districts’ local control.

catching some zzzzs

One Colorado district moving toward later high school start times — maybe — while another shelves the idea

PHOTO: Chellseyy, Creative Commons

Of the two large Colorado school districts that were actively exploring later high school start times for the 2017-18 school year, one is moving ahead and one has dropped the idea for now.

The 55,000-student Cherry Creek district — the state’s fourth largest — continues to consider proposed start- and end-time changes at all school levels. While the district is still collecting community feedback, the current proposal would set elementary school start times at 7:55 a.m., middle school start times at 8:50 a.m. and high school start times at 8:15 a.m.

Currently, Cherry Creek elementary schools start about 9 a.m., middle schools start about 8 a.m. and high schools start about 7 am. A recommendation will go before the Cherry Creek school board this spring.

Meanwhile, the 31,000-student Boulder Valley school district won’t change school start times next year because of the complexity of managing school bus schedules and the prospect of higher transportation costs, district spokesman Briggs Gamblin wrote via email.

Changes are still possible for the 2018-19 school year if the district can find a way to keep transportation costs at their current levels, he wrote.

The push for later high school start times has gained steam nationally with increasing evidence that when school schedules match with teen sleep rhythms, students are healthier, more focused, attend school more regularly and do better academically. In the last two years, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have come out in favor of start times of 8:30 a.m. or after.

In districts that have considered changing high school start times or actually changed them, the logistics of bus schedules and after-school sports are typically the biggest hurdles.

In Colorado, some smaller districts, including the Montezuma-Cortez district in southwest Colorado and the Harrison district in Colorado Springs, have pushed start times to 8:30 a.m. or after for some or all secondary schools.

But large districts have been slower to join the club. Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, briefly explored later start times for some high schools a couple years ago, but the effort did not lead to any changes.

In the Boulder Valley district, a task force spent the 2015-16 school year researching later high school start times, with one of the group’s leaders saying last August she hoped the district could move forward with changes in 2017-18.

In Cherry Creek, where changes to school start and end times have also been under consideration over the last year, a November survey on the topic drew 25,000 responses.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they wanted high school start times to align more closely to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation. When respondents were asked to pick between six high school schedule scenarios, the 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. scenario was most popular — garnering more than 7,000 votes.