New Documentary to Show Transformation of East Harlem School into Model of School Wellness


A whole-school wellness transformation is underway at The Children’s Storefront School in East Harlem, New York. The Children’s Storefront is an independent, tuition-free school, serving children from the neighborhood, grades P-8. The student population is 98% African-American, and 90% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. This Coordinated School Health Initiative, led by Cathrine Himberg, a professor in the PETE program at California State University-Chico, is being captured in a documentary titled “No Excuses!” produced by John Roussell, professor of Communication Design at CSU-Chico.

It all started a year ago with a needs assessment. The first change was to hire a qualified teacher to replace the “gym class” leader who had no related training, and no teaching credential. A former SPARK employee, Helen Primrose, was selected for the position. The next step was to train all teachers and staff. The school’s main challenge is lack of space, so SPARK’s standards-based and  pragmatic curriculum was a natural choice.  SPARK donated teacher training, curriculum and equipment, and additional support and services were donated by The First Tee, The Annika Foundation, Human Kinetics, and the Action Based Learning lab.

During their sabbaticals from CSU-Chico last fall, Himberg and Roussell spent two months at the school implementing changes, and documenting the transformation. Now, instead of a “roll-out-the-ball” “gym class”, a qualified physical education teacher is teaching standards-based, best-practices focused quality physical education to the school’s 180 students. Most of the classroom teachers are doing physical activity brain-breaks in their classrooms.

For example, in the middle of math class, the children get out of their seats and dance the “Brain Boostin’ Boogie” (SPARK MS dance), and get back to work with renewed focus. The school’s cafeteria staff is finding more ways to support the students’ health by using whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables in every meal.  One teacher is organizing exercise sessions after school, and all teachers have been given a pedometer for their personal use, access to classroom sets, library “loaners” for homework assignments, and ideas for implementing pedometer lessons into all academic subjects. One eight grade student, Nanyamka, changed the Comic Book Club’s Bake Sale fundraiser last week to a Healthy Snack Sale, with great success. The children are moving more during recess because they have new equipment to play with.

Parent education sessions will start in March, and we are hoping for parent support and involvement. The head of school, Wendy Reynoso, is supporting the transformation by providing the time needed for teacher training, and by supporting the efforts of the project. Additional funding from the Center for Advancement of Standards-based Physical Education Reform ( will bring the new PE teacher and the head of school to the AAHPERD conference the next two years.

The documentary, titled  “No Excuses!”, aims to show that if a change can be created at this particular school, it can be achieved anywhere with qualified committed teachers and supportive administrators. The objective of the documentary is to educate school administrators, parents and policy makers on the role of quality physical education and comprehensive school wellness programs on children’s health, academic achievement, and school behaviors. It tells the story of the transformation at The Children’s Storefront, while also presenting evidence and expert interviews from around the country of how a “No Excuses!” approach is vital when it comes to turning around the nation’s obesity epidemic, and promoting overall wellness and lifelong activity. The end goal is to increase the commitment and advocacy needed to accomplish comprehensive change in schools throughout the nation to help children become more healthy and fit.

The project is supported by, an initiative of the Center for Advancement of Standards-based Physical Education Reform (CASPER). For more information visit the website, and on Facebook @supportREALteachers.