NYC nonprofits say there is "real commitment" behind new wellness program partnership with city schools

NYC nonprofits say there is "real commitment" behind new wellness program partnership with city schools

NYC nonprofits say there is "real commitment" behind new wellness program partnership with city schools
September 6, 2016

It’s an exciting time for Lindsey Harr. During a recent taping of a City & State Presents podcast, the executive director of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of School Wellness didn’t hide her enthusiasm as she talked about the new investment from the city to hire 500 physical education teachers over the next three years.

“The mayor and Chancellor (Carmen Fariña) have made a real commitment into equity and excellence and to ensuring that all students are getting the kind of outstanding physical education that will enable them to be successful in and out of school,” she said.

The investment is in line with the mayor’s campaign promises to bridge the equality gap in the city. But Harr says the decision to invest more money and energy into wellness education comes after years of study, including a pilot program called PE Works that was tested in eight school districts last year.

“There has been a lot of foundational work down over the last several years in this area,” Harr said. “And with our work on the pilot we were able to test out some models and some approaches that we think will be effective in working with all schools.”

Harr says the PE Works program will now be implemented in all schools, starting with with needs assessments and the development of action plans. The goal is not just to make sure that children are active and make intelligent decisions about their health. It is also to teach them about how they can access city programs to reach these goals, a skill they can use for the rest of their lives.

To accomplish this, the DOE works actively with nonprofits who have similar goals, like the New York Road Runners. Rachel Pratt, the senior vice president of youth and community services at NYRR, says working with the DOE is a natural fit.

“I think we both have our own goals and visions for what we are doing, and they just sync up so nicely. We keep in contact with each other. We also move ahead knowing that we are on track.”

NYRR has several programs in New York City schools, including the Mighty Milers, Young Runners and Run for the Future. They have been partnering with the DOE for more than a decade. Harr says the partnership works because the nonprofit approaches the schools with an open mind.

“(NYRR)’s commitment to schools is a core part of their mission. They have always been focused on what the needs are in the schools and what the department’s priorities and visions are,” Harr said.

After receiving direction from the DOE, NYRR works directly with the schools to find teachers or principals who will champion their programs. NYRR’s programs are free of cost, but they need support in the schools. The organization’s goal is to sign up more than 700 schools this year, with a focus on districts where the need is greatest, but they are not solely focused on providing programs in the schools.

“We also bring kids to events,” Pratt said. “So kids who have never been to Times Square are suddenly running a race in Times Square during the New York City Half (Marathon), or they are running in Central Park, or they are going to a park in the Bronx. They are seeing that there is this whole community of other kids who are also running. And for some, it’s the first time they have done that – been surrounded by the idea of team and people with common interests.”

Harr noted that this ability to provide opportunities for students to apply and practice what they are learning in schools once they leave the classroom is paramount when looking for nonprofit partners like NYRR.

“Having partners like NYRR who are a community resource, who are working inside the schools, who are providing complementary programs and services, that is modeling what we want to see in our communities,” Harr said.

Michael Gareth Johnson