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Students at Chicago Public Schools weren’t getting enough physical activity and time spent in P.E., so district officials created a new department solely to improve the health and wellness of students. The department’s new chief health officer led the enactment of three new health policies and the rollout of a plan to bring at least 30 minutes of daily P.E. to all students. Soon students in grades K-8 will be getting a minimum of 150 minutes of P.E. a week, and all high school students will be required to take P.E. every semester.
Awareness: As the third-largest school district in the nation, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are responsible for ensuring a healthy learning environment for its diverse student body (45% Hispanic and 39% black).
For many years, the district partnered with the city’s health department and groups throughout the city to bring better health opportunities for students.
By 2011, according to Jamie Tully, a CPS school wellness specialist, the district had already started working to improve its schools’ wellness policies.
The district had formed a health and wellness promotion team under its food service department, to help schools become certified through the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Healthier US Schools Challenge.
“The formation of our team was kind of a result of our partners seeking improved wellness environments in the district,” Tully said.
Learn: Not long after, in 2011 the city started drafting its Healthy Chicago agenda.
In the obesity prevention section of the Healthy Chicago agenda, local children ages 3-7 were identified as having obesity rates that were twice as high as that of children in the U.S. (22% vs 10%).
The agenda also revealed that 71% of high-school students were not getting recommended levels of physical activity, and 70% of students were not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables.
Frame Issue: Although the current state code (Illinois school code, 105 ILCS 5/27-6) already required that all elementary and high school students be enrolled in daily physical education (P.E.), schools often faced budgetary and active-space challenges in fulfilling this requirement.
Daily P.E. was especially challenging at schools with only one P.E. teacher for grades K-8, like Frank W. Gunsaulus Elementary School (an 89% Latino school), said Kyle Schulte, a P.E. teacher at the school.
Furthermore, the state code had a clause that allowed CPS to obtain a waiver that excused 11-12th-graders from taking P.E. classes.
That waiver, however, was set to expire at the end of the 2014 school year.
Because there was really no one driving the P.E. program at the time, the department used the waiver expiration as a means to look at multiple ways to improve the state of P.E. and P.E. policies.
In fact, through the development of the Healthy Chicago agenda, the city and CPS officials jointly identified the need for an office of student health and wellness (OSHW) and a chief health officer to better manage health services offered to students and develop new and revised policies.
“We were put in the leadership role for physical education,” Tully said.
Education/Mobilization: In 2012, less than a year after the Healthy Chicago agenda, the district formalized the office of student health and wellness (OSHW) and hired its first Chief Health Officer. This meant the health and wellness promotion team moved out of the food services department and into their very own department.
“The really cool thing about the health officer is that she reports both to the commissioner of public health and to the CEO of our school district,” Tully said.
The first line of business for the department was developing a healthy snack and beverage policy and a comprehensive school wellness policy.
The school wellness policy (2012) not only included provisions for improved nutrition education and healthier food choices, but also standards for improved P.E. and more physical activity throughout the school day. Along with improved nutrition conditions, the policy called for:
• More minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during P.E. (2/3 class time);
• Use of evidence-based curricula that aligns with state standards;
• At least 90 minutes of physical activity per week;
• Encouragement of active transportation to and from school;
• A minimum of 20 minutes of daily recess; and
• Increased minutes of time spent in out-of-school physical activity.
This was a good start—but the new department thought daily P.E. could help students even more.
Between February and March 2013, with the support of a Community Transformation Grant (CTG) and a Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant, the OSHW worked to engage teachers, principals, parents, students and representatives from the non-profit sector in the planning process for improved P.E.
In 17 meetings, they asked 265 stakeholders to “share their vision for physical education in an ideal world.” These discussions helped the OSHW identify overarching themes for P.E., and paved way for the OSHW to work on a strategic plan, called The Movement Movement (TMM), for daily P.E.
Debate: As they began work to enhance school P.E., the OSHW team wanted to help kids get a full 60 minutes of physical activity every day, which is recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and Let’s Move Active Schools campaign.
But Tully and her colleagues wanted more evidence to show that this goal is actually attainable.
Activation: Between April-June 2013, the OSHW convened a steering committee that helped refine plans for bringing more minutes of PE to schools. Members of the steering committee included CPS employees and members of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), a network of over 3,000 Chicago-area stakeholders who work to prevent childhood obesity.
These meetings resulted in an idea for a pilot program to see if limited-resource schools could make the shift to more minutes of physical activity throughout the day.
The new pilot program, called 30-20-10, would require schools to provide 30 minutes of daily P.E., 20 minutes of recess, and 10 minutes of physical activity in the classroom.
That’s the recommended 60 minutes a day.
“I think a major contributor to our success with passing the PE policy is that we do a lot of pilot programs in our office,” Tully said.
Starting in fall 2013, 25 schools, including Gunsaulus Elementary, chose to participate in the pilot test.
“Those schools were able to attest to the fact that, even with limited resources, they were able to implement increased P.E.,” Tully said. “We were able to take what we learned from those schools and leverage it into a policy.”
Frame Policy: The district’s test proved schools could effectively implement 30-20-10 minutes of P.E., recess and in-class physical activity; so with the help of the steering committee, Tully and the OSHW team worked on drafting the district’s new P.E. policy.
The new policy would ensure that:
• K-8 students receive 30 minutes of daily P.E. (or 150 minutes/week);
• High-school students are enrolled in a P.E. class or the equivalent every semester; and
• Moderate to vigorous activity (MVPA) is maximized (at least 2/3 P.E. class time).
The policy also calls for providing P.E. instruction that meets the following criteria:
1. Daily P.E. for both elementary and high school students;
2. P.E. led by a qualified teacher;
3. Lessons developed from a standards-based curriculum;
4. Instruction that is informed by regular assessment;
5. Use of a comprehensive and transparent criteria;
6. P.E. that is inclusive of all learners; and
7. Instruction that is evaluated using tools adapted to the P.E. environment.
The policy also recommends that P.E. teachers take at least seven hours of yearly professional development.
Change: With widespread support from the community and evidence to back up the success of bringing more P.E., on Jan. 22, 2014 the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously to enact a new 30-20-10 P.E. policy.
Whereas before students were lucky to get 30 minutes of P.E. a week, the new policy enables all elementary- and middle-school students to receive at least 30 minutes of P.E. each day in addition to 20 minutes of recess and 10 minutes of in-class activity.
“We really came in as a district and said, ‘This is important to us,’” Tully said.
Implementation: To guide the implementation of this new plan, the OSHW team first worked with staff at its 25 pilot schools to help them identify ways they could fit 30 minutes of P.E. into their schedules.
“A lot of schools have to think outside the box to incorporate this due to limited facilities and resources,” Shulte said. “For us to implement it, I feel like it was a fairly easy process because the administration was on board and they saw the need for it in our students.”
Fortunately, for students at Gunsaulus, the school had recently hired a second P.E. teacher and they were able to work with the school’s librarian to offer health education as part of the P.E. curriculum. With a team of three teachers providing P.E., the school was able to up students’ minutes to a total of 150 minutes of P.E. per week in addition to offering 20 minutes of recess and 10 minutes of activity breaks.
“The first thing that we did to get some buy in from the staff is we showed them our students’ fitness scores,” Shulte said. “We used a program called Fitnessgram to show them how, out of 105 kids who did the PACER test [Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run], only 10 were in the healthy fitness zone.”
With the help of Tully’s team, Schulte said, they were also able to provide some professional development for teachers to help them incorporate more physical activity into the classroom.
Equity: When the new P.E. policy went into effect, parents, teachers and community members were invited to attend information sessions to learn more about the new policy.
According to Tully, during the 2014-2015 school year, 25 more schools will work to become 30-20-10 schools, amounting to a total of 50 schools offering 150 minutes of weekly P.E. plus daily recess and physical activity breaks. The district will also be hiring additional P.E. teachers to help schools with this transition.
Over the next three years, the OSHW will continue to roll out the new P.E. policy and encourage a culture of physical activity in schools.
“It will eventually be 150 minutes per week for grades K-8,” Tully said. “This school year, schools will be required to offer 90 minutes of P.E., then 120 minutes the next year, and then 150 minutes by the third year.”
Sustainability: At Gunsaulus, efforts to keep physical activity levels high continue. The school is currently looking to hire a dance teacher to offer students even more ways to remain active.
To keep schools accountable, the OSHW has asked that all elementary and high schools submit a three-year
P.E. action plan with detailed information on how activities will be offered and how outcomes will be measured. In the Movement Movement plan, roles for how stakeholders like administrators, P.E. teachers, classroom teachers, researchers, community partners, parents, and even students can make the P.E. policy a success are identified.
By working together and sharing the responsibility of making P.E. a priority, CPS students are well on their way to better health!
Healthy CPS: Physical Activity
Healthy Chicago’s Plan of Action for Obesity Prevention Goal
The Movement Movement CPS Strategic Plan
Chicago Public Schools Policy Manuel: Physical Education Policy
Chicago Public Schools Policy Manual: Local School Wellness Policy For Student (Adopted 10/24/12)
Healthy Chicago Policy Brief: Improving Health & Wellness of Students
Chicago Public Schools Policy Handbook
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.