physical education

Before marathon, Walcott visits young milers in name of fitness

Chancellor Dennis Walcott took a break from parent town hall meetings, protests and policy speeches this morning to visit Central Park and greet more than a thousand public school students for a citywide running event.

Walcott is three days away from running a race of his own – the New York City Marathon – and took the chance to hype healthy lifestyle habits as one way to boost student performance in the classroom.

“As far as wellness is concerned, that’s what makes for a student to be able to perform in the classroom,” Walcott said. “And that’s our goal.”

The event was one of dozens hosted annually by the New York Road Runners in partnership with the Department of Education as a way to encourage running in the public school system. For more than six years, NYRR’s Mighty Milers program has provided equipment and training resources to teachers who want to start running programs in their school. It now counts more than 50,000 students, including ones from The Active Learning Elementary School, which we wrote about in June after it won a national award for its health-conscious curriculum.

“Running is becoming the sport of choice for New York City schools,” said NYRR President Mary Wittenberg. “It’s easy, it’s accessible, it’s affordable. That’s what we’re teaching, even when there’s limited resources.”

The partnership comes at a time when budget cuts have limited schools’ ability to offer fitness options. Last month, a report found that the majority of city schools weren’t meeting physical education requirements.

But teachers I spoke to today said their students, many who come from low income communities, need as much exercise as they can get.

“We have high asthma rates, high obesity rates,” said Maisha Cadet-Duval, a physical education teacher who coaches the running program at P.S. 57 in East Harlem. “But so many of my kids have come in and lost weight and they’re so much more conscious about their health now too.”

Perhaps no one is more credible a spokesman than Walcott, a skydiving fitness enthusiast who has been known to walk with a pedometer and meticulously measure his meal servings. He said he is only now about to complete his first marathon, in part to celebrate his 60th birthday.

“The children, when they hear that, they’re excited,” Walcott said.

Students came from every borough today, representing 53 schools and ranging in age from kindergartners to high school seniors, racing between 200 meters and a full mile. Afterward, they played games, ate bagged lunches provided by NYRR and watched student performances at the nearby bandshell.

Walcott, who is currently tapering in preparation for Sunday’s race, declined to specify a goal time when asked by a reporter.

“My target time is to finish,” he said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.