Ontario’s elementary students will be dancing, jumping, walking, and leaping their way to improved fitness and student achievement this year, Education Minister Gerard Kennedy said today. “This school year, every elementary student will take part in a minimum
of 20 minutes of daily physical activity as part of our overall Healthy Schools Program,” said Kennedy.
“The plan also includes the return of specialist physical education teachers, the removal of junk food from vending machines and the opening up of our schools for community use after-hours.”
After years of cuts to essential programs, the education system is being reinvigorated. For the first time, at least 20 minutes of daily physical activity will become a mandatory component of the elementary curriculum. Daily physical activity will support existing physical education classes that typically take place twice or three times a week for 30 to 40 minutes for
elementary students. Daily physical activity is part of the government’s Healthy Schools Program, which to date includes:
– $39 million this year, increasing to $146 million by 2008-09, to hire
2,000 new elementary specialist teachers in key areas such as physical
education, literacy and numeracy, music and the arts. Six hundred
specialist teachers are in place this school year
– Directing school boards to remove all junk food from vending machines
in elementary schools and replace it with healthier food and beverage
choices. The guidelines provided to school boards are based on expert
research and recommendations provided by the Dietitians of Canada and
give clear guidance about which foods are appropriate, nutritious
choices for children
– All of Ontario’s 72 district school boards have signed agreements to
reduce or eliminate user fees, opening up schools to non-profit
community groups for use after hours and year-round. This is part of a
$20 million investment annually and new agreements will be signed for
each school year
– $10.7 million for training, resources and implementation of daily
Education Minister Gerard Kennedy was joined by Minister of Health Promotion Jim Watson, Minister of Economic Development and Trade Joseph Cordiano, Toronto Maple Leaf Centre Matt Stajan and Left Winger Chad Kilger and Paralympian Jeff Adams.
“Participating in sports and doing daily physical activity is an important part of growing up healthy and doing well in school,” said Stajan.
“Research shows that students who engage in daily physical activity demonstrate improved academic performance,” said Kennedy. “Our schools need to be in the business of helping students reach their full intellectual, emotional and physical potential.”
A study quoted in the Canadian Journal of Public Health says academic performance is maintained or even enhanced by an increase in a student’s level of physical activity. In addition, a Saskatchewan study showed that regular participation in physical education and physical activity improves self- esteem, which is related to better academic achievement.
“Between 1981 and 1996, the number of obese children in Canada between the ages of seven and 13 tripled,” said Watson. “Healthy Schools is part of an overall approach to help Ontarians stay healthy, which includes Active 2010, the government’s Sport and Physical Activity Strategy.”
“There is clear evidence the heart healthy habits we develop in childhood, are likely to follow us into adulthood,” said Rocco Rossi, Chief Executive Officer, Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Encouraging physical activity among today’s youth, as well as maintaining a healthy diet, can help keep this population safe from cardiovascular disease in the future.”