In 2022, the MMSD Board of Education approved a new Wellness Policy, recognizing that physical, social emotional, and mental health are linked to academic achievements and college, career, and community readiness and that students learn better in healthy schools with healthy staff. The policy’s preamble states: “As a system committed to anti-racism and equity, we seek to disrupt health inequities and eliminate disparities so that our entire learning community achieves optimal health and wellbeing. This Wellness Policy outlines the District’s unified and collaborative approach to ensuring that the district and schools promote health and well-being for all students and staff throughout the school day.”
Coinciding with the implementation of the new Wellness Policy, and as a part of our mission to support the programs and initiatives of the district, the Foundation launched the Play Every Day campaign in July 2022. The focus: To purchase equipment and support programs directly related to physical activity that benefit ALL students. During the campaign’s launch event at Emerson Elementary, Laurie Stensland, Community Partnerships Director at the Foundation stated: “This is our effort to support our schools through equipment for P.E. and for recess; we’re really just trying to make it easier for kids to get active and be healthy, which of course supports their learning in the classroom.”
In response to the campaign, our community generously donated more than $174,000 spurred by a substantial gift from Milwaukee Bucks player and Madison native Wesley Matthews. “He is our champion donor, he understands the impact sports, physical education, and recess can have on a student’s well-being both in and out of the classroom,” Stensland said. As a result of the funds raised, every school in the district has been awarded a budget specifically for P.E. and recess equipment. Purchases have included everything from hula hoops and balls to roller blades, bicycles, and tchoukball, floor hockey, and ping pong equipment.
To better understand the impact that the Play Every Day campaign has had on the district, teachers, and students, we recently connected with Ashley Riley, MMSD’s Physical Education, Health & Wellness Coordinator. Riley’s first comment was “This has been an exciting process from the start. To have the Foundation reach out to us and ask, ‘What do P.E. teachers really need’ was just awesome, and something we are not often asked. To have an organization say, ‘we want to fund you’ is incredibly validating and brings a lot of value to the work we do.”
She went on to explain that the annual P.E. budgets across the district’s 52 schools vary. However, the Play Every Day initiative has helped to level the playing field and create equity across the district, ensuring that every school has a PE budget of at least $1,000. “Now, with the help of their Play Every Day budgets, P.E. teachers can make sizeable investments in their equipment that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to make with their ongoing budgets. Things such as bicycles and rock-climbing equipment,” said Riley. “And not to mention how easy the Foundation has made it for the teachers to place their orders! Everyone is so grateful that the Foundation has committed to doing the legwork on our behalf.”
Riley shared that the Play Every Day campaign has also helped to significantly boost the district’s rotating equipment program. “Classroom sets of P.E. equipment can often cost upwards of $5,000. But the rotating program allows us to buy just one or two sets for the schools to share. As a result, we can expose students to activities that they otherwise may not have access to, such as biking, climbing, bowling, and snowshoeing,” said Riley.
Well-Rounded is Wonderful
For Riley, one of the most exciting things about the campaign is its close alignment with the district’s Wellness Policy and its focus on holistic health and well-being. Riley commented: “Not all students want to play team sports or even individual sports, but we do all need to take care of our bodies and minds. As such, the district has recently updated our P.E. programs’ scopes and themes to include more ‘lifetime activities’ that help support healthy bodies and minds. Activities such as fishing, ping pong, bowling, and yoga. And the Play Every Day campaign is boosting these efforts to move to a curriculum that is well-rounded and supportive of ALL students rather than just those that consider themselves athletes. Placing the emphasis on health and wellness, as opposed to athletics and sports, feels more inclusive, more encouraging of lifelong physical activity.”
As we round out the Play Every Day campaign, Riley is hopeful that the community will continue to support the health and well-being of MMSD students through a donation to the Teacher Support Network. “This is such an important initiative and there is still so much more we can do for our students. Health is wealth, and getting active really does make a difference!”
With Your Help, We Can Do Even More!