space debates

City officials discuss proposed P.E. transparency bill

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Department of Education officials pushed back Wednesday as members of the City Council debated a bill that would require the city to release more information about students’ access to physical education.

The bill, introduced by Council member Elizabeth Crowley in February, would force the city to produce an annual report that would include data on the number of full-time, certified physical education teachers, the average frequency and amount of physical education provided for each grade level in each school, and the facilities each school uses for those classes.

This bill is a reaction to the reality that many city schools fall short of state requirements for keeping students active. In May, Comptroller Scott Stringer found problems with the way the education department reported how long students spent in physical education and where the classes were located. That report found that 32 percent of schools do not have a full-time certified physical education teacher on staff, and 29 percent do not have a designated space for the class. (A 2011 audit also found dismal compliance rates, and the city promised then to better inform principals of state requirements.)

“This is a health crisis unfolding right before our eyes and it’s affecting our children,” Crowley said. “Our schools are just not making the cut.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, city officials acknowledged that some schools don’t have the dedicated gym space that many students and teachers prefer, and that the city needs more certified physical education teachers, especially in elementary schools. Deputy Chancellor of Operations Elizabeth Rose said that while the city is already working to improve gym access, the city supports the bill’s goals, though she said she wanted to ensure that new reporting requirements wouldn’t place an unnecessary “burden on schools.”

“We believe in a comprehensive approach to supporting wellness,” Rose said. “We have already been working on training teachers and helping schools use whatever available space they have.”

State law requires that elementary school students participate in physical education for at least 120 minutes per week. Students in grades 7-12 must be taught by a certified physical education teacher, while elementary students can be taught by a classroom teacher under the supervision of a certified physical education teacher.

For Rafaela Vivaldo, a parent who attended the Council hearing, schools’ lack of space and equipment is the biggest problem.

Vivaldo’s nine-year-old son attends P.S. 19 in Corona, Queens, where she said he is often sent to the school auditorium to watch movies with his class during physical education time because the school’s gym is overcrowded and low on equipment.

“It doesn’t make sense for a child to face obesity at such a young age,” Vivaldo said in Spanish. “This bill could really help children get active and feel more motivated in the classroom.”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged similar concerns at a parent forum in May, citing lack of available gym space as a problem for schools citywide.

“This is an issue that is of great concern for us,” Fariña said. “Obesity, nutrition, these are all things that we have on our plate. The reality is, that it’s one of the few things that I feel that sometimes, private schools have over us.”

She mentioned that city officials had looked into building more gym spaces on school roofs but found that to be prohibitively expensive. Instead, the city has encouraged school custodians to shovel snow earlier to ensure more school yards were useable in winter, increased dance and yoga classes available for students, and is looking to add high school sports programs.

“This does not have an easy solution,” Fariña said.

Note: This story was updated to more clearly explain the city’s position on the bill and its reporting requirements.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”