By Jonathan Reid
Jai Nanda, Founder and Executive Director, Urban Dove
Liz Wolfson, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer, The Girls Athletic Leadership Schools Inc.
LaVal Brewer, Executive Director, Playworks Southern California
Moderator: Dr. John Ratey, Author, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain/Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Across the nation, funding for sports and structured play opportunities in schools is decreasing. At the Summit, three partners spoke about the transformative power of sport on the school campus.
The panel, led by Dr. John Ratey, spoke to the success and science behind movement and learning. Each panelist shared their model for engineering play and physical activity into the school environment. For Brewer, structured play at the elementary school level can pave the path for a healthy relationship with fitness and exercise. “What makes a successful recess is a caring, consistent adult and coaches who create an environment where inclusion is the norm,” Brewer said. “Let kids do what they do, but create a space that is functional for them.”
At Urban Dove, a charter school founded by Nanda, students are required to take part in varsity sports. Each kid is assigned a coach, who immediately becomes than just the traditional definition of the coach role. “Coaches are changed through the youth development approach,” Nanda said. “If you want coaches to do all the youth development work, that is a full-time job.”
At The Girls Leadership Schools, Wolfson echoes Nanda in regards to making athletics and fitness as much a part of the curriculum as math or science. “How do we change gym teachers to be physical educators?,” Wolfson asked to the Summit crowd. “The shift of changing gym teachers into physical educators never became systemic. Youth development should be at the core of the position, with the sport folded in later. There is no training program to create the teachers that are needed to put into these schools.” Wolfson added the story of how just like more traditional education topics, sport offers a blank slate that can allow youth to succeed no matter their background.
Brewer hammered home the need for properly trained physical education educators in more and more schools. “You have to take it seriously and invest in the positions,” he said. “When you provide kids an opportunity with boundaries and space, they actually perform beyond their ability.”