CPS Elementary Schools Getting Serious About PE

May 21, 2015

How CPS elementary schools are using creativity to offer daily PE.

This school year, thanks to a policy passed last January by the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) adopted a new Physical Education (PE) Policy making physical education a core subject. The policy requires high-quality daily PE for all students, giving physical education the importance it deserves and ensuring that students receive the significant benefits of daily exercise.

Until recently, most Chicago elementary school students received just one period of physical education per week and the majority of Chicago high school students received only two semesters over four years. That all changed in 2014 when CPS passed a new PE Policy that made physical education a core subject and requires students to receive high-quality PE every day.

Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) was an active partner in advocating for and creating this new PE policy because we know when students have the opportunity to be physically active at school, they’re more likely to be attentive and ready to learn in the classroom. Passing the policy was a big achievement, but the hard work starts now.

Rebuilding the district’s capacity to the point where all schools can deliver high-quality daily PE to the district’s 400,000 students is going to be a long-term process. Despite Illinois state policy requiring daily PE for all students, CPS schools have struggled to make this a reality for a variety of reasons.

During the 2014-2015 school year, the new policy required elementary schools to provide students with 90 minutes of physical education each week. Starting next school year, that increases to 120 minutes, then 150 minutes during the 2016-2017 school year.

How have elementary schools fared in this first year of the PE policy implementation? After checking in with the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness more than halfway through the first year of PE policy implementation, it’s clear that progress is being made. The recently released Healthy CPS Survey found that 89 percent of schools are meeting the minimum minute requirements of the new PE policy. Also, 80 percent of students are engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 50 percent of their time in PE class.

But implementation doesn’t come without its challenges. To mitigate these challenges, some schools are implementing creative solutions.

Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy is mitigating space challenges by holding two separate PE classes — each with their own PE teacher — in the school’s gym. In just one year, the school has seen the number of students in the Healthy Fitness Zone increase from 10 percent last year to 32 percent this year, said Kyle L. Schulte, PE teacher at Gunsaulus.

Gunsaulus is seeing the additional PE pay off in other ways, too. “Our students love being active whether it’s in physical education, recess or in after-school activities,” said Schulte. “Being physically active gives our students an outlet to any frustrations that they may have. Being active calms the students down while stimulating their brains, which in return prepares them to learn.”

Daley Academy Principal Rhonda Hoskins, who serves on Fit to Learn’s advisory committee, has worked to implement daily PE at her school with some innovative tactics. At Daley, the PE teachers use the school’s gymnasium as well as a classroom that’s been converted into a fitness room. All classes spend five weeks in the gym and five weeks in the fitness room every quarter. This schedule allows all students to be active and engaged learners whether the lessons are in fitness, team building or team-based sports, Hoskins says.

HSC is continuing to work with CPS to help schools implement the policy by working with school leaders — parents, teachers, and principals — to raise awareness of the importance of daily PE and help galvanize resources at the district and local level to help schools bridge the gap. Through our Fit to Learn professional development program, we’re working with teachers and principals to ensure daily PE focuses on engaging all students in physical activity to build lifelong healthy habits.

Although there are real challenges that lie ahead, we know that more than ever, CPS students are getting the chance to run, jump and play every day at school. And that’s progress.