Originally published Dec. 9, 2019 in Daily Voice Plus.

By Donna Christopher

Are your children getting the minimum recommended daily hour of exercise — a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline? Take heart, Greenwich Public School parents, because your kids are getting at least that. Their 60 minutes is at school alone.

The schools’ physical education program drew high marks last month when the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) recognized Greenwich Public Schools as a highly performing, Physically Active School System also known as PASS, awarding the school district a 2019 Connecticut Red Ribbon PASS Program Award.

The award demonstrates Greenwich Public Schools’ commitment for its students to be physically active for at least 60 minutes throughout each school day. Receiving this award means the district was able to demonstrate these required standards, according to the Connecticut State Department of Education:

  • Connect: Successfully acknowledge the connection between mind and body by offering 60 minutes of activity daily,
  • Cooperate: Successfully develop and execute community-based physical programs, while developing cooperation between school and members of the community,
  • Collaborate: Successfully promote collaboration among the school community and supporters of the programs.
  • Communicate: Successfully communicate physical education programming and activities.

The 60 minutes of physical activity for children and adolescents between the ages six and 17 is a current CDC standard and Greenwich schools have been on top of the curve with both gym class time and extra physical activities incorporated into the child’s school day.

In Greenwich, there has been a 120 minutes per week physical education time “commitment” in place prior to his time there, according to Jeremy Boland, program coordinator for Physical Education/Health/Family & Consumer Science.

“I think some decisions were made in the past that predate anybody to prioritize physical activity so at the elementary schools some (students) do two classes, 60 minutes each, and others do four classes of 40 minutes each. It’s up to the individual schools and administrators how they want their phys ed to be scheduled,” Boland said.

More than gym

In its PASS Award application, Greenwich Schools demonstrated its commitment to physical education using the International School at Dundee as a representative example of the physical activity offered by the district.

Along with the 120 minutes per week of physical education class time, examples shared in the application included before (40 minutes; five days) and after (60 minutes; five days) programming; 20-minute daily recess; PTA sponsored events like a wellness week and skate night; an annual 5 K Color Challenge (fundraiser); and accessible busing to the local Boys and Girls Club and YWCA after school programs.

Well beyond other districts

Boland said he researched other school districts or District Reference Groups (DRGs) in the region — it is a classification system in which districts that have public school students with similar socioeconomic status and need are grouped together: He found that Greenwich has a physical education program “well beyond and above similar districts for phys ed time.”

The Greenwich Schools’ physical education program offers varied ways to appeal to all students so they get the physical activity that they enjoy, according to Boland.

So at the elementary school level, children work with so-called “manipulatives,” like practicing to gain physical control over an object, a Yo-Yo or basketball. They also learn circus skills, golf, floor hockey and participate in field days.

“They don’t experience what we consider competitive sports until middle school,” Boland noted.

Middle school students can take part in “a number of other activities besides team sports. “We give every student an opportunity to be successful, so they can identify something they enjoy doing,” Boland said. “Slowly but surely, we’ve become more responsive to the different needs or interests.”

In high school, students play team sports, but also can opt for gymnastics and Project Adventure, among other activities. According to Boland, Project Adventure offers a number of problem-solving challenges, all focusing on being socially active, and centered on doing physical activity to communicate effectively and share ideas, then come up with solutions.

One example of this is a “team juggle” where 10 students might stand in a circle with the ultimate goal of 10 students juggling together.

The state recognition “kind of snuck up on us. This is the first year this recognition took place. The State Department finally recognized (physical education) as a program,” Boland said.

Greenwich also stood out because of high marks in the Connecticut physical fitness assessment scores. Statewide, students are assessed in fourth, sixth, eighth and 10th grades.

“Our rate of success and our next generation accountability index were high enough to qualify,” Boland said.

“Our Physical Education staff is committed to creating fun, inclusive and creative ways for our students to be active throughout their school experience,” said Superintendent of Greenwich Public Schools Toni Jones.

An award letter to the schools said, “The CSDE commends your district’s efforts to provide students with opportunities to be physically active throughout the school day and shares your commitment to including physical activity as an essential component of student success.”

A banner was presented to the ISD Staff during an awards ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 4 at the International School of Dundee.

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