I try to stay out of politics when it comes to business, however, when changes to public policy and spending influence the health and physical literacy of children, it becomes hard for me not to write about it. In an e-mail to school board directors by the Ontario government on Friday, $25M of funding was removed for 7 specialized programs, two of which were Daily Physical Activity(DPA) for elementary students and Physical Activity for Secondary Students (PASS) resulting in their complete cancellation.
So what are these programs? Why did it feel like a sucker punch to a youth educator?
DPA is a program that gets kids moving for 15-20 minutes per day within the classroom. It can be broken up into chunks as small as 5 minutes but incorporates the basics of movement from ParticipAction. In the case of my children’s classes, they may dance to a video, play Simon Says, or incorporate a nature walk into their science class. There are resource guides and training available for teachers for the various age ranges. The program was implemented in October of 2017, to meet the Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines which state that children should be limited in the amount of sedentary behaviors that they have.
PASS was also implemented in 2017-2018 to allow secondary schools to partner with community and businesses to improve engagement of the student body in physical activities. This is not necessarily sports, but overall health and fitness. Up to 50 projects with a maximum grant of $15000 were to be selected and funded as proposed by engaged students and school administrators working together to increase activities available outside of class time. These are projects like adding work out areas, partnering to bring in yoga instructors during lunch times, expand intramural programs with new equipment and retrofitting older areas to be safely used for physical activities. There needs to continue to be a growing acceptance that an active lifestyle doesn’t mean that you have to play on the school sports teams, and that schools have a role in finding and supporting non-competitive and complementary fitness activities as well.
With the plethora of research showing a correlation between youth physical activity and increased attention span, cognitive performance and brain development I worry that the cancellations of these programs, especially Daily Physical Activity, is damaging for our children.
While there are many dedicated teachers who no doubt will continue to implement these tactics within their classrooms, without the proper training and resources, I am sure there are some that will struggle. This is not their fault. Physical literacy is a subject just like numeracy, reading and writing and without allotted classroom time and teacher training, it will not be taught.
My vision for the future is to rebalance the statistics: Right now only 35% of 5-17 year olds are getting enough physical activity. Ideally, it would be 100%, but I’m a realist. Even if we could get it to 35% who AREN’T getting enough, it would be a huge step in the right direction. It now falls to an even greater degree on parents, organizations like LifeFit Athletics, and sports clubs to ensure that children are getting activity during their days.
A loss of the school system supporting active movement makes it very tough to meet the 24 hour guidelines which state that there should be limited sitting for extended periods under 17 years of age. Our kids need to MOVE. For their sake and that of their health and learning, the teachers need to let them.
Coach Laura Sivers