A group of parents, community advocates and children filled the Buffalo School Board’s chambers Wednesday, calling for full implementation of the district wellness policy, which was passed last year.
The policy includes an hour of physical activity daily for all public school students, unstructured physical activity daily for children from pre-K through sixth grade, and education and services to reduce high-risk sexual behaviors.
“We have a significant portion of our children who are overweight – for example, 45 percent of our seventh-graders – and our sexual health risk factors are the poorest in the entire state, and more than 200 of our students became pregnant last year,” Jessica Bauer Walker, executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo, told the board as she set the stage for a stream of speakers that followed.
Walker earlier addressed a small group of parents, advocates and children who rallied on the steps of City Hall. At one point, they broke into jumping jacks to reinforce the need for more school exercise.
Nadia S. Pizarro, an enhanced-outreach worker with the American Red Cross, said that alarming statistics concerning sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy among young people in Buffalo make it vital that more be done in sex education from early grades through high school.
Sam Magavern, president of the Partnership for the Public Good, said the district must follow the state’s recommendation of 120 minutes of physical activity per student weekly, which it has not done in years. He also questioned why mandatory recess has yet to be implemented.
“The School Board passed a policy that said recess every day, so what’s the excuse? That’s not rocket science, to tell every principal, in every school, that all your kids need recess every day. I respect that they want to do it well, they want to have guidelines, they want to implement it, but let’s just start with ‘everyone gets recess every day,’ and we’ll work to make that as good a recess as possible,” Magavern said.
Will Keresztes, associate superintendent for educational services, expressed his support for those at the rally – and said he is confident the district will do more.
“Every school district wants to have more physical education, and the reality is there are very few school districts that are in full compliance with the recommendations that are in the state curriculum,” he said. “Right now, we’re figuring out a way of how to add more physical-ed teachers, and whatever the numbers are, we know we need to do more.”
He also said the district is aware that parents, students and principals recognize the numerous benefits that physical exercise and play provide and that he expects significant improvements in the near future, as well as in the area of sex education.