powell-picIT TAKES A COMMUNITY—From left: Gail Edwards, CEO and president of Urban League Charter Schools; students; Tim Powell; Dr. Joon Soup Lee, cardiologist and co-director of HVI; and Esther Bush, CEO and president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh stand in front of the new school playground. (Photo courtesy of Tim Powell)


Physical education programs are just as important as academically based education ones, but as school budgets continue to be cut, so do gym classes. Or in some cases, schools have no physical education programs at all. While reading, writing and arithmetic are important, so is the knowledge of healthy eating and exercise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, “obesity affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, which is triple the rate from just one generation ago.”

In an effort to keep scores up and health problems down, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School, in East Liberty, partnered with UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute to give students the playground they needed to work on their bodies, while they work on their minds.

On Oct. 23, the school cut the ribbon on its new playground. The new playground and activity center now includes stations for chin-ups, sit-ups, push-ups and knee exercises.

“I am in admiration. I pleaded and they (UPMC’S HVI) went above and beyond for the 200 plus children and families that we have here,” said Gail Edwards, CEO and principal of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School. “This is not just a play area, but it’s a curriculum and a growing partnership.”

Esther Bush, CEO and president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, said “I really want to thank the group of at UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute for taking the time to partner with the Urban League of Pittsburgh Charter School and providing support to meet the health needs of the children and for providing an additional playground. It was a phenomenal partnership and they really showed an interest through their great fundraising efforts.”

Like many charter schools, the Urban League Charter School, which began in 1998 and currently serves more than 200 students in grades kindergarten through fifth from school districts throughout Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, did not have a physical education program. Edwards said the small playground they have was geared toward the younger students.

So the school partnered with UPMC’s HVI through their Community Outreach and Cardiovascular Health initiative’s Children’s Health and Nutritional Goals and Education program, which seeks to develop, enhance and educate the community on healthier living, nutrition and wellness.

Tim Powell, R.N., a cardiac cath staff nurse at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital’s Cardiac Cath Lab and COACH/CHANGE program manager, said, “This was a collaborative effort. Often times everyone gets caught up in trying to take care of the patients and we forget about the outreach. Everyone was very ambitious and it felt good.”

According to both Powell and Edwards, HVI raised more than $10,000 through their fundraising efforts, which included a Happy Hour event at Peter’s Pub and the purchasing of personalized bricks that will be part of a wall displayed at the school, along with other donations.

Powell said test scores improve when kids have physical education and exercise, and that the initiative is focused on not only working with students, but getting parents involved too because it takes a collective effort from the community, parents, school and medical staff.

Along with expanding its work to build a playground, CHANGE also offers family workshops on topics such as, “Reading Nutritional Fact Labels,” and visits local schools with information about health eating and lifestyles. “We hope that the children will take the information home.”

Powell said that when the program first began, the idea was to go to local public schools, until they identified there were schools, such as charter schools and magnet schools in the area that did not have a physical education program at all and saw that as a better fit.

“We want to be proactive and try to fight childhood obesity. We can’t ignore it.”

Edwards said, with the help of HVI, they “are trying to help the children to be more concerned about their health so that they do not become obese or develop diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Edwards said, at the ribbon cutting, one of her fifth grade students, Mikeiya Bennett, spoke about having high blood pressure and said the new activity center will help her to stay on task.

“You never think about children having high blood pressure, but some do. She (Bennett) is really losing (weight) and working on her health.”

Edwards is thankful of the school’s new addition and see’s a healthy future for her students. “We are just one place, but in our own way, we are making a difference.”


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