The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Overcrowded Blaine Must 'Get Creative' to Fulfill New CPS Gym Mandate

By Serena Dai | February 17, 2014 7:18am
 Fulfilling the new CPS physical education requirement will require some creative scheduling for the overcrowded Blaine Elementary, school officials said.
Blaine Elementary School
View Full Caption

LAKEVIEW — A new Chicago Public Schools rule requiring daily physical education class for elementary school students will be "a challenge" for the overcrowded and underfunded Blaine Elementary to fulfill, the school's physical education teacher said.

CPS is now requiring all elementary school students to have 30 minutes of physical education or health class each day by the 2016-2017 school year, and three of those classes each week must involve actual physical activity.

For Blaine, 1420 W. Grace St., implementing the policy will require a lot of "thinning" people's time and "getting creative," said Jonathan Sikes, Blaine's physical education teacher, who is crafting a plan that must be submitted to CPS by July. Currently, students receive an hour of gym class a week.

The school of more than 950 students will need at least one more gym teacher, and with last year's slim budget, Blaine officials do not know how they will pay for another one.

CPS has said some of the $21 million in surplus TIF funds will go toward gym and art teachers, but only high schools will benefit for gym teachers, CPS said, as their situation is considered more urgent. Elementary schools can still apply for more TIF money for art teachers.

Science teachers at Blaine will probably have to teach some health, pulling them away from regular core curriculum, Sikes said.

And at 138 percent capacity and with just one gym, Blaine will have to find ways to schedule classes in the auditorium, the cafeteria and outside to meet the requirement.

In the winter, the scheduling will require significant juggling, as students currently use the auditorium for recess when it's cold. The cafeteria couldn't be used during recess due to lunch, meaning only the gym can be used for class for more than two hours of the day when it's cold.

Even then, the auditorium is not a perfect solution for gym class or recess. The stage only safely fits about 15 students for physical activity, and class sizes range from 27-38 kids, Sikes said. 

"It’s going to be very tight," he said.

Blaine has been trying to expand for two years, with a proposal for a $22.5 million new annex that would include a multi-purpose space, said Kate Schott Bolduc, a member of the local school council and a school expansion committee.

Already, support staff such as nurses and therapists work out of closets, and part of the library is being used as a classroom.

The school expects enrollment to grow. The number of school-age children has increased in the Blaine attendance area, with a 66 percent increase from 2000-2010, compared to a 29 percent increase in Lakeview as a whole.

"We're hopeful that CPS knows this is a big problem," Schott Bolduc said. 

CPS is allowing schools to phase in the new policy, with the next school year only requiring 1-1/2 hours a week. Blaine and other elementary schools won't need to do the full 30 minutes a day until the the 2016-2017 school year.

The school district plans to work with Blaine in March to look at alternative spaces.

But it takes overcrowded schools years to get money for additions like the one Blaine is requesting. Parents at Bell Elementary in North Center fought for at least six years before Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) helped secure $10 million in state funding for a two-story annex.

For now, Sikes and a team at Blaine must think of creative ways to fulfill the requirement.

Some students participate in a dance program, and the team is sorting out whether that activity could count toward the requirement.

Increasing the amount of physical activity is positive, Sikes said. They will just have to "get creative" with the budget, scheduling and space, he said.

"Everyone wants this to work," he said.