by Claris Olson, HSC Environmental Health Specialist
Last week, I had a conversation with Francine, a nurse who was caring for one of my family members. Francine is a hard working mother of two children at a public school on Chicago’s south side. As usually happens with moms, our conversation quickly turned to our children and school.
Her 13-year old daughter, she told me, is a great student and loves school so much that she gets up to arrive early to school every day. Her son, on the other hand, is more like my own twelve-year-old: his favorite subject through elementary school was recess and now that he is in middle school, it’s P.E.. (And yes, I am grateful that both of our sons still have these programs at their schools.)
Francine told me that her daughter, besides doing well academically, loved playing volleyball and cheerleading. Now, her daughter doesn’t have the chance to do either of these things.
Because the test scores at her school were below a limit set by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, her daughter’s beloved volleyball, cheerleading, and other programs that were not core academic subjects had to be cut.
My heart ached for Francine, her children, and all the children at schools that are being forced to eliminate the programs that light the fire in our children’s hearts.
We know the research showing that physical activity supports academic achievement, and that healthy students are better learners. But I also know, with or without research to prove it, that P.E. is one of the main reasons my son likes going to school.
How can we expect children to learn and have a good attitude about school when we deprive them of the activities that bring them joy? Instead, children like those at Francine’s daughter’s school spend hours on critical subjects without a break for physical activity or the sports they love, which have been cut because the school has failed to meet a standard that to the children must seem arbitrary.
All children deserve the chance to be physically active, even if they happen to attend schools that – for a variety of reasons that almost always include limited resources – do not meet NCLB standards.
We know well the role that sports and exercise play in children’s health and well being -- for a few children, it provides their motivation for getting up in the morning. Let’s not take that away.