At Briscoe Elementary in the East End there’s a line of happy kids waiting for the bus. But they’re not going home — they’re going to the park!
At Mason Park, they’ll get help with homework and enjoy games, from soccer to Frisbee, lead by Houston’s Parks and Recreation Department. Students can opt for this after school program two days a week. Principal Juan Gonzalez says physical activity helps kids in school.
“When we have happy active children, they tend to come to school more, their attendance improves, their attitude, and they feel better about themselves. They do not miss school that much. So that’s my goal to obviously improve their learning, but if they don’t have their health, we’re not fulfilling their promise and potential.”
This weekly excursion is a program of CAN DO Houston, a non profit that unites childhood obesity organizations. CAN DO Houston also connected Briscoe with Recipe for Success, which teaches children about healthy eating. While it may seem really simple to just take kids to the park, Gonzalez says that many of his students can’t get there on their own for fear of gangs and traffic:
“A lot of our resources, our parents don’t know they’re out there. Like they may not know where the park is, is it safe at the park? A lot of parents are very concerned about the safety of their children, so they sacrifice their health to keep them safe at home.”
CAN DO Houston plans to expand to many more HISD schools. Gonzalez says it’s important to teach health habits in elementary school, so that by middle school students aren’t dealing with problems like hypertension and diabetes
“The program has been extremely successful. For the children who’ve said we’ve changed their way of looking at physical activity, the enjoyment of being outside and active as opposed to sitting in front of TV sets.”
Dr. Lovell Jones is the Director of the Center for Research on Minority Health at MD Anderson Cancer Center. The Center is helping to study if these programs actually affect student health and test scores:
“There are published studies that show that if you increase physical activity, you increase academic scores as well. And so one of the things we will do is see whether that holds true here as well.”
Fifth grader David Barrega says coming to the park wears him out—so he sleeps better, and is more awake in the morning. He knows he and family need to make changes:
“Because we went to the doctor and she said I was overweight, and to stop going to McDonald’s a lot.”
At the gym in Mason Park, there’s a mean game of soccer going on. Later, the kids will go outside and play football and jump rope. For a kid, that sounds like a pretty good day.