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Equity is Active: The Power of Play

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As COVID-19 persists, more and more studies are demonstrating the full scope of the pandemic’s impact on NYC’s most vulnerable communities. According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, less than half of low-income students— especially Black and Asian children— get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day in no small part due to 2020’s quarantines, remote learning, and the stresses put on essential workers. 

Remote learning took away daily opportunities for children to play outside or participate in active clubs and sports. There are other challenges, as well. Children may live in an area unsafe for outdoor play or lack affordable recreational options. This is especially true during Summer 2022, one of the hottest on record, and highly likely to keep children indoors. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.” When children don’t have access to regular fitness and play, they are at higher risk of developing these conditions. 

Program Design Specialist, Keishorea Armstrong, has seen the benefits to children at play firsthand, and is deeply involved in the ways our volunteer programs holistically support students' abilities and wellbeing. For starters, children need access to indoor and outdoor exercise spaces. 

“There are quite a few systemic reasons why students have unequal access to exercise. There are funding shortages, a lack of tools like balls or racquets, or a lack of space,” Keishorea explained. “Fortunately, we can intervene and mitigate some of these problems with our program design and volunteers.” 

Our Stand With Students program is committed to providing the resources and tools New York City public school students need to succeed, and that includes physical health. Some examples of this in practice are sports and field days—projects set in safe spaces where volunteers engage children in exercise, and most importantly, the mental and physical benefits of exercise.   

“Field days are especially popular for our students and volunteers,” said Keishorea. “It’s a day dedicated to activities like tug of war, soccer, and bowling. Volunteers engage so meaningfully with the students in these settings.”   

Keishorea is working on the development of a program called Sports Explorers which will include activities that focus on the entire child. She explained, “During the pandemic, limited access to fitness disappeared. Students had to switch to learning from home, which took them from them the social and physical atmosphere. Our Sports Explorers program includes yoga and mindful meditation to help students develop not just physically but emotionally. I’m so excited for this to launch this fall!” 

These sports, fitness, and mindfulness programs are being designed so students who may face physical limitations or are at higher risk of COVID can do them at home. “We have volunteer-led virtual opportunities to stretch, meditate, and exercise from home, which both students and volunteers can easily incorporate into their daily lives,” she added.  

If, like us, you’re committed to giving students access to fitness resources to better their physical and mental health, Keishorea has some simple yet sage advice. “Just start,” she said. “There are so many resources, New York Cares is a great place to begin, no matter what your passions are.” 

To hear the full interview with Keishorea Armstrong, listen and subscribe to The New York Cares Podcast. To make an impact in your community, visit Volunteering Made Easy or make a donation 

Erica Lockwood's picture