Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocacy Update: School Is Back in Session

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocacy Update: School Is Back in Session

Article excerpt

Complementing school efforts can engage kids in healthy lifestyle choices.

The beginning of the school year offers a time for park and recreation professionals to initiate new relationships, re-examine existing practices and to rededicate themselves to new endeavors. As schools reconvene across the country, park and recreation agencies can use this time to look at how they partner with their local schools, strengthen those partnerships and play a leadership role in engaging communities to help kids create and develop healthy lifestyles.

Park and recreation departments have unique opportunities to advance healthy student lifestyles in after-school settings and on students' routes to school. In America today, one in four children (14.3 million) are alone and unsupervised after school. After-school programs offer an array of organized physical activities such as softball, martial arts or ballet. Most programs also serve healthy snacks and emphasize the value of a nutritious diet. Physical fitness activities after school not only promote health but also serve as crime deterrents, teach youth positive values, and impart knowledge and skills to help youth establish lifelong healthy habits.

Public park and recreation agencies aren't the only entities to recognize the vital role that after-school programming can play in improving a child's well-being-the public health community also emphasizes this essential component of public benefits. In a report to the President in 2000, "Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports," the secretary of Health and Human Services and the secretary of Education identified after-school programs as a means to provide opportunities for youth to be physically active, and called for support to enable after-school programs to help in this cause.

Furthermore, the 2001 Surgeon General's "Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity" recommended that schools take action to provide opportunities for extracurricular physical activity such as intramural sports and physical activity clubs.

Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committees on Sports Medicine and Fitness and School Health recommend that schools provide extracurricular and out of the classroom physical activity programs that are inclusive of all students.

The physical activity and health promotion activities that take place during after-school hours can be as varied as the programs that provide them. Activities can take place in a traditional afterschool setting and can he integrated into a traditional homework and tutoring format, or they can he part of a broader approach in which classroom learning and after-school activities are part of a coordinated approach to address specific health concerns.

Park and recreation departments around the country offer after-school programs focused on developing specific physical and/or mental skill sets, exposing youth to varied cultural activities or even providing academic enrichment opportunities.

Park and recreation departments should celebrate and advertise the afterschool programs they offer to the community. One way to do this is by joining local partners on Oct. 12 for Lights On Afterschool Day. Lights On Afterschool is a project of the Afterschool Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all children have access to high quality and affordable after-school programs by 2010. …

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