Monday, November 2, 2015

Health in all policies in Chicago: Getting kids active

Drive through some streets of Chicago during the summer and you may find a double-dutch jump rope tournament where a line of cars used to be.

That’s because since 2012, some of the city’s least busy routes transform into temporary play areas under Chicago’s Play Streets program, an example of coalition building for health presented during Monday’s session on “Chicago Community Partnerships: Local Examples of Integrating Health in All Policies.”

Play Streets began in Chicago in 2012 and has been funded over the years by the city, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Partnership for a Healthier America. Since it began, more than 65,000 participants have participated in 425 events in over 35 communities, said Melody Geraci, deputy director of Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago-based advocacy group that helps facilitate Play Streets events. The Play Streets concept originated in New York City in the early 1900s, she said.

Organizations like Geraci’s receive a contract via the Chicago Department of Public Health to pass money to community-based groups to host a number of Play Streets events.

There are unexpected community benefits to the program too, Geraci said. While it’s great to see kids moving, the thing community members say they appreciate most is its role in preventing crime, she said.

“They’re telling us things like ‘The guys who stand on the corner, they aren’t there that day,’” Geraci said. “They decide not to stand there. They bring their kids and we see them jumping rope. There’s something about play that feels like it’s deserved.”

Out of the streets and into the schools, the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Student Health and Wellness launched a plan to reform physical education via its “Movement Movement” strategic plan in 2012. The plan stemmed from a partnership with teachers, administrators, nonprofit groups and others to come up with physical activity guidelines for Chicago’s schools.

What came out of it were multiple physical education policies passed in 2014, such as the requirement that high school students must have a daily physical education or health course for the same amount of time as other core subjects.

Schools were also required to submit physical education action plans that meet new policies, including ones that require recess for younger students. Until policies born from Movement Movement took place, recess hadn’t been mandated in Chicago public schools in more than 30 years.

Today, new policies mandate that recess be at least 20 minutes long and cannot be withheld as punishment, among other requirements, said session presenter Abby Rose, school wellness specialist for Chicago Public Schools.

“It’s one of the times kids have to be independent where they’re learning emotional and social behaviors that we’re teaching them,” Rose said.

— N.M.

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