Author Archives: Cailin

School facilities and student physical activity

Posted on by Hannah Thompson, PhD

National experts recommend that, for optimal health, youth get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) a day - which is the kind of movement that gets you sweating and breathing harder. However, youth are far from meeting this recommendation. And, unfortunately, significant disparities exist by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and income. The Institute of Medicine has, logically, identified the school setting as an ideal venue for increasing access to physical activity among diverse youth.

Image Credit: Hannah Thompson

However, many obstacles get in the way of students getting MVPA at school. We know that with limited funding, resources, and physical activity facilities, as well as competing academic priorities, students don’t often achieve the recommended daily 60 minutes of health-enhancing MVPA.

Research has shown that students are more likely to achieve recommended physical activity in schools where the physical environment, the school's programs, and the school's staff all enable physical activity throughout the day. (Although more research is still needed on the vital role school facilities can play in student physical activity accrual). Opportunities for student MVPA include during physical education (PE) class, recess, academic classroom time, and before- and after-school.

In fact, PE, in particular, has been identified as one of the greatest, yet untapped, public health tools to increase youth physical activity and help eliminate health disparities. PE offers students of all abilities and backgrounds the opportunity to be physically active and to obtain the skills and knowledge needed to facilitate a lifetime of activity and health-enhancing behavior. Additionally, PE is also positively related to scholastic achievement, including increased cognitive skills, academic behavior, and success.

Image Credit: Hannah Thompson 

In recognizing this connection between physical activity and student performance, California mandates 1st – 6th grade students get the equivalent of 20 minutes of PE/day.

Yet in California, 4 out of 5 elementary students attend school in a district that is non-compliant with the state PE law. Students in non-compliant districts are less likely to meet physical fitness standards, and non-compliant districts are more likely to have a higher percentage of low-income students than compliant districts, thus further contributing to health disparities.

These kinds of disparities in PE provision are typically driven by multiple factors, including funding for PE teachers, PE curriculum, and equipment.

Potentially just as important, though unfortunately less studied, is the role of schools’ physical activity facilities in disparities in PE provision and student physical activity. One study found that that unavailability of school facilities (e.g.  gyms and playgrounds) was a barrier for school physical activity programs like PE and that the barrier was greatest in urban, primarily non-white, and high-enrollment schools. In the same study, the availability of a school gymnasium was associated with more weekly physical activity in all schools, but especially in schools in humid climate zones.

Image Credit: Hannah Thompson 

In work our research lab at UC Berkeley has done studying PE in San Francisco public schools, teachers have cited limited indoor facilities for PE as one of the top three barriers to providing quality PE class that meets state laws. This makes perfect sense, intuitively. When it rains virtually non-stop for 3 months (like it recently has here in Northern California), not having a gymnasium or some other dedicated space where students can run around and play, often results in cancelled PE classes (not to mention, a very restless group of students).

School facilities have not only been linked to improved PE-related outcomes, but to overall opportunities for physical activity during the school day, for students and staff, alike. The presence of safe, attractive, and age-appropriate equipment (like play structures) and outdoor space (like blacktops with painted markings and fields) have been linked with greater student accumulation of MVPA during recess. The facilities encourage children and adolescents to participate in active play not only during recess, but during lunch, and before- and after-school, as well. Available and accessible gymnasiums and open indoor spaces enable students to play actively during inclement weather or when outdoor facilities are being used for other purposes. Outdoor walkways; clean, wide halls; and tracks can increase walking during class breaks and before and after school. The presence, use, and maintenance of school facilities can have a major impact on opportunities for both school sports and after-school programs (e.g., if you don’t have a baseball field, it’s quite challenging to field a baseball team).  Finally, specifying stairwell placement, building flow, and classroom design (including space allotment for standing desks, physio balls, and other classroom equipment), all have real potential to increase physical activity during the school day for both students and staff.

It is imperative that schools continue to invest in the building and maintenance of physical activity facilities, not only to improve health for today’s youth, but to help ensure healthy outcomes for the generations to come.

Hannah Thompson, PhD, MPH

Research Scientist, UC Berkeley School of Public Health

Tardiness and Poor School Facility Conditions are Interconnected

Posted on by Amanda Eppley, CC+S

The California Department of Education’s new California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) provides loads of insight for state and local leaders into what makes for healthy school environments…and what doesn’t. A perpetually overlooked aspect of school health and overall school climate is the condition of a school’s facilities and grounds. Here at the Center for Cities + Schools, we’ve looked at this issue in a number of studies  – and we have found alarming patterns of underinvestment in California’s K-12 facilities , which raise serious questions about whether or not children are attending school facilities that are healthy, safe, in good repair,…

Detroit Students Promote the Campaign for Healthy Schools

Posted on by Shirl Buss

The Center for Cities + Schools in collaboration with Wayne State University’s Volunteers, Administrators and Coaches (VAC) have been implementing Y-PLAN Initiatives over the past nine years.  For the past two years students have been engaged in a multi-year effort to promote healthy eating and active living in the schools, housing developments, and neighborhoods in the urban core of Detroit.   As part of this effort, the children ages 4-14 at Brewster Homes and Parkside Village, created posters as a public awareness campaign to increase healthy behavior and healthier school environments.   Students, like young illustrator Martez Vance (pictured here), worked…


Posted on by Anne Robertson

By BROCK HICKS   The number—and the proportion—of students enrolled in public charter schools (independently run public schools) is increasing nationwide, particularly in urban school districts. The public policy debate in education on the pros and cons of charter schools remains tenuous and divided. Market-oriented educational reformers favor charter schools as the answer to the problems in urban public school systems; public and private funds available for constructing and running charter schools continue to increase. However, charter schools have many critics. For example, in 2016 the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Movement passed resolutions critical of charter schools and…

City – School Partnerships A Natural Home for Health Equity:

Posted on by Cailin

Y-PLAN Richmond and the Shift Towards Health in All Classrooms As featured on the Build Healthy Places Network blog.  August 30, 2016 | Deborah L. McKoy and Megan Calpin In 2015, sixty students peered out at a local landfill as a community elder and environmental justice activist spoke about the persistent health problems caused by the city’s industrial heritage. The students are in their local high school’s health academy, and are beginning to ponder the future health and sustainability of their community. Richmond stands at a crossroads of an environmental justice and health equity movement. The land beneath their feet…

Designing Outdoor Play and Learning Environments

Posted on by Cailin
Filed under: School Facilities,

We get a lot of random requests for information here at CC+S. Here’s one we’ve had more than once: “What are best practices for the design of outdoor play and learning environments at schools?"  We recently got an email about this from a parent in Hawai’i. As my colleagues and I put together a shortlist of key resources for her, it occurred to me that it was worth sharing. So here goes. Big kudos to CC+S’s Creative Director, Shirl Buss, who put most of this info together.  In no particular order, these firms and organizations have done innovative work in playground design: Robin…

Full Service Schools in a Full Service City

Posted on by Cailin
Filed under: School Facilities,

Desiree Carver-Thomas is working with the City of Richmond to examine the way in which communities and schools positively interact to create beneficial outcomes. Her project: Implementing the Full Service Community Schools Initiative, aims to increase the presence of full service schools across Richmond.  Desiree is a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Goldman School, interested in education policy and social welfare. She came to Berkeley after teaching for five years in New York City public elementary schools. She's committed to working on issues of equity and community empowerment in public education. A full service community school (FSCS) is “both a place and a…

Advancing Project-Based Learning in OUSD: Best Practices and Tradeoffs

Posted on by Cailin

Kate Glassman is passionate about promoting instructional practices that encourage students in grades K-12 to engage in meaningful inquiry and undergo personal transformation. She cares deeply about harnessing social policy to increase the professional capacity of teachers in public schools, and to expand educational opportunities for low-income students, foster youth, and English language learners. Kate is a first year Master of Public Policy (MPP) student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Before beginning graduate school, Kate taught argumentative writing at a public high school within the Ministry of Education of Singapore. Prior to teaching abroad, Kate worked as a third grade teacher for…

Aligning Linked Learning with Market Trends

Posted on by Cailin

Raúl Chavez's research interests include emerging adults and employment issues, vocational identity development, and social policy analysis. Raúl is a second-year doctoral student at the School of Social Welfare. He has over eight combined years of public service experience at the FBI, CIA, US Department of Health and Human Services, and County of Los Angeles.  As a PLUS fellow with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the Association of Bay Area Governments, I am working to aggregate data, information, and knowledge from various sources to make recommendations for how the OUSD can strengthen its relationships with employers as part of its work-based learning…

Galvanizing Community Engagement in School Facility Quality

Posted on by Cailin
Filed under: School Facilities,

Alejandra's passion lies at the intersection of education and social policy. Her current work for the Oakland Unified School District reflects her interests as she examines the dilemma of assessing opportunity and increasing awareness around school facilities.  Alejandra is a first year Masters of Public Polity student at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. Before entering into graduate school she served as a college readiness advisor through AmeriCorps VISTA in the San Antonio Independent School District.  No matter the context, school facilities departments across the country face a common dilemma: on the one hand, the quality of school facilities play an…