The Community Education Council for District One has partnered with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, as part of a city-wide effort called the Partnership for a Healthier NYC. The partnership is working hard to make Manhattan a healthier place to live, work and play, by working with community organizations, city agencies, and other stakeholders to increase opportunities for physical activity among our residents by making such opportunities safe, appealing and accessible.

Last May, a New York Times editorial revealed that only about half of all school-age children meet the guideline of at least 60 minutes a day of vigorous or moderate physical activity (equivalent to a brisk walk).

Even more shocking is the fact that children in New York City, and particularly in Manhattan, fare even worse:

According to the 2011 New York City Risk Behavior Survey (NYC DOHMH):

·         79.7% of students, across the 5 boroughs, reported not engaging in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

·         77% of students in Manhattan report not engaging in daily physical education class compared to 59% of students across the city.

·         82.4% of Manhattan students report not engaging in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

Given these findings it is not surprising that last June, when community members and organizations from across Manhattan gathered at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and were asked, “what are your concerns around active living in our borough?”  there was consensus:  our schools.

Participants agreed that we need to promote PE classes that stress activity.  And, they agreed that building physical activity breaks into the school day are critical.

The most commonly cited barriers to these goals, however, are space and a lack of resources.

In Community School District 1, our District 1 Leadership Team and Community Education Council  have just completed a physical education and activity facility survey that serves as a community needs assessment and inventory of those resources and facilities.

The Physical Education and Activity Survey was conducted at all 31 of the District’s schools, ranging from Elementary Schools all the way to High Schools.

The results generally tell three stories of the inadequacy of District 1’s gym and yard spaces:

 * Spaces that have been converted into gyms from other types of rooms, such as classrooms and lobbies:

 11 or 35% of the schools surveyed fit this category. Of those, 7 still serve additional purposes besides being a gym, including one that serves as a cafeteria, a lobby and an auditorium – making it a “cafegymalobauditorium”.

* Adequate gym and yard spaces are now shared by 3 or more schools: 5 buildings, comprising 16% of the schools surveyed, are made up of these shared campusus. The category includes several High Schools whose gym time takes priority due to graduation requirements, putting  in jeopardy the fulfillment of state mandates for schools in the buildings with middle school or elementary grades.

* Adequate gym and yard spaces for a school or a 2- school shared building where the students still only get gym class once a week:

There are 7 schools that fit this bill – 23 % of the schools surveyed. Also, there are 2 schools without gym teachers due to budget cuts whose personnel have to find creative ways of getting some physical activity for the kids such as dance classes and other activities. The staff has to do this after school hours on their own and without compensation.

In addition, 8 of the 31 (26% or 1 out of every 4) schools have either broken, constantly breaking or rusty/hot water only  water fountains. 

Click here to view the Gym Survey Data for District 1

Click here to view the Gym Survey Slide Show

Lastly, most schools do not use their rooftops and are interested in using them as recreational spaces but the DoE’s School Construction Authority Capital Plan does not allow for this kind of investment.

While these problems of inequitable facilities and resources may seem insurmountable we are working to devise community based solutions that will help us find creative solutions to these barriers.  One of those creative solutions is tapping into the NYC’s Active Design Guidelines (

The Active Design Guidelines, developed by multiple NYC Departments (Design and Construction / Health and Mental Hygiene / Transportation, and others) alongside urban planners and architects offers diverse strategies that help us invent (or, in the case of schools, re-invent) space that increases livability and makes opportunity for physical activity a normal, safe, exciting part of our everyday.  The Active Design Guidelines are in accordance with concepts of place making that encourage us to look at the spaces around us and make them spaces that people want to take advantage of. How can our students play if their playgrounds are broken down?  What do our empty spaces look like and how can we build them into places that encourage physical activity?  And, how do we make sure that schools with less capital are not the schools that suffer because they don’t get the cool rooftops, state of the art outdoor spaces, and beautiful buildings that scream energy, activity, and well-being?

For example, a team of students at Innovation HS have worked to reinvent some of their spaces just so that students get messages about Active Living in their every day.  This past weekend, they renovated their stairwells so that students felt some energy when walking up the stairs and didn not view it as a “chore” –  Here’s the link to the FB album.


Click the links below to read articles about the gym survey and how our schools are adjusting to space issues.

DNAinfo – Parents and Principals Call Foul Over Lack of School Gym Space on LES

DNAinfo – LES School Installs Bouncy Floor So Lobby Can Double as Gym