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Photos by Anthony Giudice/QNS
Photos by Anthony Giudice/QNS
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his ambitious Universal Physical Education plan at P.S. 81 in Ridgewood.

After visiting with children playing soccer in the tiny, hot, auditorium — which doubles as the school’s gymnasium — at P.S. 81 on Monday, June 5, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Ridgewood elementary school will be receiving major upgrades.

De Blasio said the school on Cypress Avenue off Bleecker Street will be getting a brand-new gym and air conditioning in every room, and that every elementary school in the city will get similar upgrades.

Currently, students at P.S. 81, and children in many schools across New York City, are forced to take their physical education classes inside cramped and oftentimes ill-equipped rooms that were not designed for gym classes.

Moreover, only 11 of the 48 classrooms at P.S. 81 are equipped with air conditioning, putting an unnecessary strain on students, teachers and staff during the hottest months of the school year.

That is all going to change as new air conditioners will be arriving at the Ridgewood school as early as Tuesday, June 6, de Blasio announced, and the School Construction Authority (SCA) will break ground on P.S. 81’s new state-of-the-art gymnasium next year, so students can play soccer and other sports in a proper physical educational facility.

Right now, there are 76 schools in the city that lack any serious gym space for students, and another 120 that need major upgrades. These numbers were unacceptable to de Blasio as he pledged to make impactful changes to the way kids learn.

“My pledge is that by September 2021, every single school in New York City will have a modern, full phys. ed. capacity for our children,” de Blasio announced inside P.S. 81’s library. “And we are creating a curriculum that actually brings the modern first to health and wellbeing into how we teach phys. ed.”

The mission to provide all NYC students with properly temperature classrooms and adequate gym space was a personal one for de Blasio, he said, as he saw his own two children suffer from lack of quality physical education classes and air conditioning in their schools.

“Kids need phys. ed. for their bodies, but they also need it for their minds,” de Blasio said. “They need it for their ability to be calm, and to focus and to learn. So my own personal experience convinced me that our school system was missing the boat for so many kids and leaving way too many kids behind. And it’s been that way for a long, long time, and it had to change.”

To ensure the Universal Physical Education program makes its goal by 2021, $105.53 million in capital funding and $1.8 million in expense funding were earmarked for the program in the city’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget — which was agreed upon on Friday, June 2.

School Chancellor Carmen Fariña outlined the health benefits of getting children into physical education at an early age: “If you look at the health issues in this country, obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, if we don’t start getting kids used to physical education when they’re young, make it part of their environment and part of who they are, then we’re not really doing right by them.”

She also noted that many colleges and universities offer sports scholarships to outstanding student athletes, and having a great foundation in physical education from a young age can ready children for their future.

In order to get proper gymnasiums in the schools that are currently lacking, the SCA will work to see which schools can accommodate a standalone gym in their schoolyard or nearby area, or community organizations such as a local YMCA where they can lease the space for the school.

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