Parents from P.S. 234 are exercising their voices in disapproval of the delay in reopening the school’s flood-ravaged gymnasium.
The elementary school, located at 30-15 29th Street in Astoria, has been without a gym since September due to damage caused by severe rain storms. The flooding produced “bumps” in the gym floor and has prevented the facility from being used thus far this semester, prompting many parents to wonder whether their children are receiving the proper physical education.
“It’s terrible,” said Fred Fowler, whose daughter Sydney is a fourth grader at P.S. 234. “The kids need the gym. Every school should have a working gym.”
Fowler said that his daughter is athletically active on the weekends, but that she “should not have to wait until then.”
Jackie Soto, who has two children attending P.S. 234 — eight-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Matthew — said her kids “miss gym” and that it is too cold to effectively exercise outside in the schoolyard.
According to Margie Feinberg, spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE), the school has instituted extended recess time and adopted indoor exercise programs, such as Move to Improve and Activity Works, to compensate for the unavailability of the gym.
Assistant Principal Peggy Mouzakitis says the kids love the in-class programs, which combine for roughly 30 to 40 minutes of exercise, and called them a “good workout for their age.”
According to published reports, parents are claiming their children’s physical education has consisted of jumping jacks in the classrooms and movie screenings in the auditorium since the gym’s closure.
P.S. 234’s principal, Thea Pallos, assures the children are not watching films in lieu of gym, and believes Activity Works, a scientifically designed, interactive video program which aims to improve activity levels and healthy eating habits in young children, may be what the students are misidentifying as “movies.”
“The most important thing to us is that the kids are stimulated in every way,” said Pallos, who admitted physical education at the school has been more difficult without a gym. “Students and parents have been frustrated, because some children leave the building and can’t play outdoors after school. So we want to make sure we can give them those opportunities at school. There have been challenges and we are certainly trying to meet them.”
Among the challenges highlighted by Pallos was the sharing of their schoolyard, where physical education classes have sometimes been held this semester, with I.S. 235, a neighboring middle school which also utilized the out-of-order gymnasium.
Senator Michael Gianaris says Pallos and parents have contacted his office to request he get involved in facilitating the fixing of the flooded floor.
“We have a number of parents very concerned that this problem has dragged on for way too long and their kids are without the physical education they need,” said the senator. “There is no excuse for the mismanagement of this situation. At a time when kids are supposed to be getting physical education, they are busy doing activities during which they are stagnant and not moving. Due to high child obesity, we have to make sure our children are getting the exercise they need. On this issue, the DOE has failed miserably.”
According to a DOE spokesperson, the School Construction Authority (CSA) will install a temporary floor while the students are off for winter break. The floor will be in position for the start of the second semester, and a permanent floor will be put in place during the spring, after exterior drainage work is performed.