Reimagining School Sports: Small Urban Public High Schools

September 28, 2021  • Sports & Society Program

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Key Points

  • 63% of urban schools offer high school sports, yet only 33% of urban students play school sports in high school.
  • 43% of urban students say they walk or hike, making that the #1 physical activity outside school that's not organized sports.
  • 24% of urban students ride bikes, vs 32% of urban students and 31% of rural students.

A Project Play initiative of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, “Reimagining School Sports” recognizes the essential role that high schools play in preparing young people for life – and the cognitive, educational and health benefits that flow to students whose bodies are in motion. The initiative aims to make quality sport and physical activities accessible to all students by identifying strategies that administrators and other leaders can adopt, aligned with the mission of schools and within the context of a comprehensive education.

The Aspen Institute invited all schools to share their innovations and apply for recognition. A $20,000 award is given to one winner in each of eight school types, made possible by our project partners – Adidas/BOKS, the DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation, and Hospital for Special Surgery. Reports on each school type are being released in 2021, followed by a final report in early 2022 that will make systems-level recommendations that can drive progress across all school types.

The “small school movement” of the 2000s created many small schools out of large urban high schools. This downsizing was intended to foster relationship-building between students, teachers and families, and can also create stronger relationships between athletes and coaches. But this fracturing has also meant that many schools now lack the capacity or space to consistently field teams in as wide a variety of sports as before. Some schools have formed new cooperative partnerships to field combined teams shared between multiple small schools, creating new opportunities for interaction between students from different backgrounds, but these cooperative arrangements also face challenges in communication and transportation. Worth noting: Our Aspen Institute survey shows urban students rely just as often on community programs as they do school programs. Ideas in this report can help refresh the high school sports model for small urban schools to tackle immense challenges.

Why We’re Reimagining School Sports in America
June 22, 2020 • Tom Farrey