PROVIDENCE – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Playworks New England and the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition recently announced an expansion of their partnership focused on increasing physical activity and bolstering social and emotional skills in local students. The Playworks Recess Implementation program grew from its initial outreach with 18 schools last year to 36 schools from across Rhode Island during this school year.
A $100,000 grant from BCBSRI allowed the partnership to expand and comes after the General Assembly enacted legislation in 2016 requiring a minimum of 20 minutes of daily recess in all Rhode Island elementary schools. The partnership’s goal is to change school culture and improve the health of children by leveraging the power of safe, fun and healthy play each day at school. According to the 2016 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook, in 2015, only 10 of the state’s 39 school districts required 20 minutes of daily recess and 70 percent of elementary school principals surveyed reported withholding recess for disciplinary reasons, something that the new law highly discourages.
This grant is part of BCBSRI’s continuing efforts to combat childhood obesity. Since 2014, the health insurance company has provided more than $1.4 million toward wellness initiatives in local communities, with a focus on healthy eating and physical activity for children and families, the company reported. “A Healthy Weight for the Next Generation” is a primary focus of the insurer’s philanthropy. The 2016 KIDS COUNT Factbook noted that more local children enrolled in Head Start, an early childhood program for low-income preschool children, are overweight or obese than their counterparts across the country. During the 2014-15 school year in Rhode Island, 20 percent were obese and 25 percent were overweight, respectively. During that same period, national data showed that 16 percent were obese and 13 percent were overweight.
“Evidence continues to mount that engaging kids in effective free play in a school environment improves their physical and mental health and can set a foundation for a lifetime of wellness,” Kim Keck, BCBSRI president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “By doubling-down on this partnership, we are expanding our reach to empower more schools to develop fulfilling recess experiences for students, helping to create healthier school cultures and ultimately healthier, more active children.”
“Our expansion efforts into Rhode Island are integral to our regional aim of serving 200,000 children in 400 elementary schools by 2020,” Jonathan Gay, executive director of Playworks New England, said in the statement. “We are lucky to have BCBSRI and RIHSC as established partners in Rhode Island to make this expansion possible … every child deserves the opportunity to have safe and healthy play in school every day. Our continued work in Rhode Island is the first step to make this possible.”
The partnership includes the 18 participant schools from the 2015-16 school year and 18 new schools, which will be selected by application. BCBSRI reported that a survey following last year’s initial Rhode Island training found more than 88 percent of respondents willing to recommend Playworks training to a colleague. National surveys show that the Playworks curriculum leads to increased playground and classroom cooperation and decreased bullying and other disciplinary incidents.