Building Healthy Minds, One Sport at a Time

By Joe Titus

If we want to give New York City kids the building blocks to excel academically, we have to invest in physical education — and that means recommitting to the groundbreaking, but now defunct, PE Works program.

In 2015 then-Comptroller Scott Stringer issued “Dropping the Ball,” a report detailing the many failures of the City’s ability to engage students in physical activity. The report echoed many of the tenets of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity, and pointed out that “active students are better able to engage in the classroom and excel academically.”

Around the same time, the City established the PE Works programs, which had tremendous results. In its initial pilot phase in the 2015-16 school year, it found that “almost all (96 percent) of elementary schools failed to provide the required time and frequency of PE instruction that is necessary for young students to master PE skills according to State standards.”

The program, which rapidly expanded citywide, sought to overcome “historical barriers to physical education by first giving principals the funds and hiring support to re-prioritize PE.” By the time funding ran out after the 2018-19 school year, 78.9 percent of elementary students were meeting PE time requirements and nearly every elementary school had a PE teacher.

In the four years since, we have not made any further progress.

In the most recent report for the 2021-22 school year, 77.1 percent students are meeting required PE time, a number that drops to 64 percent for K-5 students. That dropoff is concerning given that preliminary evaluations of the PE Works programs found grade 4 and 5 students in particular showed “larger and steadier” yearly improvements in aerobic capacity compared to students not in the program.

Shortfalls in activity have significant consequences for our youth, and we know that when physical education is not addressed in schools the physical activity gap starts to look a lot like the income gap. Poorer students cannot afford club sports, which have grown increasingly expensive and elite, and parents often do not have the time or ability to drive them to practices and out-of-town games. As a result, poor children become less physically active, less healthy, and less academically engaged than their peers.

According to The New York Times, the CDC recently found just 31 percent of kids from families at or below the poverty line were participating in sports, compared to 70 percent of kids from families making at least $105,000 a year, and 51 percent for families in the middle income ranges. Gaps in physical education, like gaps in reading, writing, and math, should not become an accepted outcome of disparities.

In 2020, faced with the problem of keeping kids active, we launched a platform, Hiveclass, which makes physical education and youth sports training available through remote learning. We started this company and created a standards-based physical education curriculum, based on our own personal experiences and frustrations during the pandemic — but for many kids, COVID-19 was only one barrier to physical activity.

As we’ve grown, so have our goals. Today we are committed to making quality instruction in physical education accessible, supporting good mental health and providing the building blocks for advanced skills to kids everywhere.

In New York City, this remains a persistent challenge.

According to the Physical Activity Alliance, National Report Card, New York ranks 40th out of all states and the District of Columbia when it comes to the percentage of young people active seven days a week, with fewer than 20 percent saying they are active every day. The same report also ranked New York 30th when it comes to obesity rates, with more than 30 percent of students overweight or obese.

Our company is committed to closing these gaps. We offer high-quality sports and physical education instruction, primarily by partnering with school and library systems, to children from all income levels. Our goal is to provide the discovery, joy, curiosity, and freedom to try new things to all students. By combining technology, entertainment, and education we hope to inspire kids to partake in different sports and activities with their peers.

Though our digital platform is designed as a vital resource to deliver standards-based physical wellness education, teachers can use the platform during in-class instruction as well as for less traditional remote learning. Meanwhile, libraries encourage physical activity at home or at the park where access to organized team sports may be limited.

We need the City to do its part and fund our schools so that all of New York public school students, especially our most vulnerable, get the tools they need for a healthy, active, and academically-fulfilling life.

Joe Titus is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hiveclass, an online sports and fitness training platform with a goal to make quality instruction in physical education accessible to kids everywhere. On Twitter @hiveclass.

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Previously Published on gothamgazette with Creative Commons License




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