Volume 75, Number 16 | September 07 - 13, 2005

Back to School

A special Villager supplement

Carl Wynter, head of the P.S. 3 Building Committee, with his son Carlton, a student at P.S. 3, toss around the basketball. Carl is spearheading the Hudson St. school’s drive to improve its athletic facilities by adding a rooftop gym.

New gym would put P.S. 3 kids on track to fitness

By Judith Stiles

Most parents know that waiting with kids in the checkout line at the deli spells trouble because the candy and junk food display is down low, calling out to the kids “Grab me now!”

Greenwich Village psychologist Dr. Carol Wachs laments that she faces this all the time with her twin 7-year-old daughters, but her solution to this annoying problem works. She tells the girls, “Somebody put the candy there to trick you into wanting it, but as soon as we finish, we will go and get a really good treat!” Keep moving, be firm, and distract attention away from the devilish display. Dr. Wachs points out that parents are not home free when they are out the deli door. They often face what feels like an onslaught of advertising for fast food and sugary drinks that has added to a spike in overweight and obese children across the country.

Dr. Jerry Clements of Village Family Practice notes with concern that in the past two decades while children’s median height has increased slightly, at the same time there has been a disproportionate increase in body weight. He adds that chubby children often turn into overweight adults who are at increased risk for heart disease and diabetes later in life. However, Dr. Clements is certain that junk food is not the only culprit; rather, city kids simply do not get enough physical activity. His theory is that “the New York City parents, especially in Greenwich Village, put so much emphasis on getting into the right schools, testing, eventual placement into good colleges, success in school and success in life, that the physical education program in a child’s life is largely overlooked.”

Dr. Clements strongly recommends that children should have a minimum of one hour of aerobic exercise daily, which is nearly impossible when many public schools have little or no gym period. “Recess enables some kids to run around, but it is often the less active or overweight kids who you will find standing around during free period,” he adds.

Retired P.S. 3 teacher Lucy Rubin believes that students these days have a lot more nervous energy with all the emphasis on testing, which leads to more sitting.

“Often we would open the doors to the rooftop play area and the kids would just run full throttle into the yard, as if they had been holding back,” she says. “The value of exercise in education is huge and because our P.S. 3 teachers recognize that, we have created our own dance program and the teachers take their classes to swim at the Carmine Street Pool a few times a week.”

In 2006, the building that houses the current P.S. 3 on Hudson St. between Christopher and Grove Sts. will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and when architect C.B. J. Snyder designed the building in 1906, physical education was not a priority. Children spent much more time outdoors in that era, when that area of New York City was considered a suburb. The current space inside the front door of P.S. 3 was the designated gymnasium in1906, with an added wall to separate boys’ gym from girls’ gym. Now the wall is gone but large pillars that interrupt the space are still in place, making it impossible to play a decent game of basketball.

Two years ago two P.S. 3 parents, Carl Wynter, head of the P.S. 3 Building Committee, and Stefan Freid, an architect, put on their thinking caps and hatched an idea to put a tennis bubble on the rooftop play yard so that the kids could have a weatherproof gym space. The original idea morphed beyond a bubble to an additional floor — a complete gymnasium — to be built on the roof. Elaborate architectural plans were drawn up and the proposal won the full support of City Councilmember Christine Quinn.

Although rumors were flying around Greenwich Village that, hooray, P.S. 3 would finally have a gym, the parents and teachers await the results of a feasibility study with their fingers crossed, hopeful that funding for the gym will be found in the city’s budget. “Having a real gym would be a dream come true,” says Rubin, who adds that, currently, a rainy day can mean up to five classes crowded into one truncated space that is their current so-called gym.

Parents and teachers alike agree that good nutrition begins at home and that unfortunately one can’t always rely on schools to provide adequate exercise time. To get that hour of vigorous aerobic exercise daily, there are a variety of affordable and fun programs in Lower Manhattan beyond the ones sponsored by local schools. You can also try some of these at-home exercises. That’s right, exercising in your apartment! Here are a few tips culled from parents who simply cannot ferry their children to after-school activities. Resourceful neighborhood parents have enjoyed these activities alongside their children. Hey, aerobic exercise is good for everyone!

Jump rope in the hallway for a vigorous 20 minutes;

Make a game out of an exercise routine like jumping jacks, sit-ups and stretches;

Hop on and off a still soccer ball, alternating feet as fast as you can, while watching television, if you like;

Run in place and do squats with a parent and give a prize to who lasts the longest;

Sprint to the corner instead of walking to catch the school bus;

Get up an hour earlier for school and work and jog a few blocks with your child;

After-school recreation programs:

Tony D’Apolito Recreation Center (1 Clarkson St.)
The McBurney YMCA (229 W. 14th St)
The Sol Goldman 14th St. Y (344 E. 14th St.),
The Boys and Girls Republic (888 E. Sixth St.)
The Downtown United Soccer Club (Pier 40, Houston St. and West Side Hwy)
Childrens Aid Society (219 Sullivan St.)
Henry Street Settlement House (265 Henry St.)

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