Back to School Doesn't Mean the End of Play

mikaela randolphThis month many children are heading back to school. Like many children and parents at this time of year, I am excitedly nervous -- excited about the beginning of a new school year, and slightly nervous about the challenges that lie ahead. But as we all settle our children back into the routine of early morning rising and homework, these routines should not mean the end of the extended summer play.

Across the country, communities are rethinking physical activity and the increasing role schools play in increasing opportunities for children and the community to be physically active -- from strategies that promote increased walking and biking to and from school (Safe Routes to School), to recess, to physical education, to the time spent being physically active outside of the school day. We want our children to be academically successful, and research shows that active children learn better. In addition, physical activity can curb behaviors that may inhibit academic success such as fidgeting and allow children to stay on task.  Let’s take a closer look at some highlights from the field that allow children and the community to have increased access to physical activity opportunities through shared use.

Shared use practices are taking off in communities in high need of increased opportunities to be physically active. Case in point: Cumberland Valley, Kentucky and Los Angeles, California are two very different communities, but both are finding success in a shared strategy to ensure their communities can be physically active.

Cumberland Valley, Kentucky
Cumberland Valley is a rural area of Southeastern Kentucky. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease are widespread in the region and residents have almost twice the rate of poor health found in Kentucky as a whole. Working in four counties -- Bell County, Clay County, Knox County and Jackson County -- the Spread the Health Appalachia team, a program of the Cumberland Valley District Health Department, has been making great inroads in the shared use realm. They have brought together key partners and the community to establish shared use agreements in Bell County and Knox County.  Thanks to a new shared use agreement the team brokered by bringing together key partners and the community in Bell County, the community will now have access to three facilities at the local high school.  The first is a cross country trail, which can be utilized for walking or running through the beautiful Appalachia hills. The other two facilities are being constructed --  an outdoor track and a softball/baseball field that will allow for a variety of uses for the community.

These amenities are slated to be completed and open to the community in Spring 2015. Another agreement is being finalized in Knox County.  Dewitt Elementary school, which is located in a very remote area of the county, will benefit from the new construction of an outdoor track and play space, while the community will have access every day during non-school hours.  Now that’s what I call a win-win. Keep up the great work, Cumberland Valley!!

Los Angeles, California
Across the country, and in a very different and more urban setting, Community Health Councils and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health are working to advance shared use practices in South Los Angeles through a CDC-funded Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant. The project collaborates with Community Health Councils, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and University of Southern California researchers. It is designed to reduce disparities in obesity rates and hypertension for African Americans and Hispanic/Latino residents. The REACH team has selected 18 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to implement shared use agreements.  As the second largest school district in the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District has made some positive strides already in the shared use area.  However, these latest efforts are working more directly with communities that most need access to healthy eating and active living strategies.  The team is working with key decision makers and the community to identify the right programming, which will range from cooking classes to dance classes to soccer.  We know when success happens in one area a ripple effect is bound to happen. Keep up the great work, Los Angeles! 

Thanks to these efforts and others like them, back to school does not mean the end of play. Communities across the country will be playing a little longer and a little bit safer as shared use continues to gain momentum nationwide.

For more information please visit our Shared Use Clearinghouse and look for new resources from the Safe Routes Partnership.