A new law takes effect this week in Alaska requiring schools to provide almost one hour of daily physical activity for all students in grades kindergarten through 8.
Children benefit from physical activity, both in their overall health and their academic performance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meeting the daily recommendation of physical activity is linked to an increase in concentration and focus, improved classroom attendance and behavior, better academic performance, prevention of obesity, and improved overall health.
In 2016, the Alaska State Legislature passed and the Governor signed SB 200, with the short title “Mandatory Physical Activity in Schools.” The law went into effect October 16, 2016.
The new law states the following: “a school district shall establish guidelines for schools in the district to provide opportunities during each full school day for students in grades kindergarten through eight, for a minimum of 90 percent of the daily amount of physical activity recommended for children and adolescents in the physical activity guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…”. Full text of the law can be found at www.akleg.gov.
The CDC recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children and adolescents (the same recommendation in Play Every Day messages). The new Alaska law requires 90 percent of that amount — or 54 minutes of physical activity — during each school day for grades K-8. The 54 minutes may include a combination of physical education classes, recess, and in-classroom physical activity. Since daily physical education is an important component of the educational curriculum, many schools will meet part of the requirement by offering PE. However, each district may decide their own combination of activities to meet the daily 54-minute requirement.
The Superintendent of the North Slope Borough School District, based in Barrow, asked each schools’ staff how they were going to meet this new requirement, said Brian Freeman, a member of the district’s wellness team. The school district’s leaders stressed that the law doesn’t allow inclusion of after-school activities toward the 54 daily minutes of physical activity, Freeman said.
Schools in this district came up with different strategies to reach the activity goal during school hours. Nunamiut School in Anaktuvuk Pass reports using dancing during its school-wide morning opening time to reach its goal. Nuiqsut Trapper School has recess and physical education classes every day for their students. Ipalook Elementary School in Barrow is incorporating Brain Gym exercises into its teachers’ daily lesson plans.
The Alaska School Health program, within the Division of Public Health, has created a webpage providing resources and options to assist school districts in their planning efforts to meet the requirements of SB 200. Visit http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Chronic/Pages/SchoolHealth/physicalactivity.aspx for guidance, including sample scheduling options, recommended classroom-based physical activity resources, and model language to ensure school district wellness policies (also known as the Student Nutrition and Physical Activity policies) meet the new requirements of this law.