13 Tips to Help You Advocate for Health & PE

On February 15, 2023, more than 130 dedicated health and physical education professionals from 33 states attended SHAPE America’s SPEAK Out! Day on Capitol Hill. At this annual event, members of the HPE community meet with representatives of Congress to advocate for continued support and robust funding for health and physical education.

After attending SPEAK Out! Day, we both started thinking about how we could use our experience in the field and our shared passion for policy and advocacy to encourage others to engage in advocacy efforts year-round.

Advocating for quality health and physical education can be a challenging, but necessary task. Many HPE teachers and supporters struggle with finding ways to advocate at the local, state and national level. Strains of marginalization continue to exist, and the call for teachers and teacher educators to serve as policy actors is critical.

Who should serve as a policy actor? You! You are the perfect advocate.

As a profession we have long put our advocacy efforts onto others, such as school or district leaders. But when you lead the charge in advocating for health and physical education, you have an opportunity to not only educate your school and community, but also engage with fellow advocates and supporters of HPE.

So, whether you are a seasoned advocate or new to the scene, here are some tips to help you advocate for HPE at the local, state and national level.      

Advocate for HPE in Your School or District

Tip #1: Connect with school advocacy champions including school principals, teachers, parents, students, and community members to find other HPE champions in your area. Many times, there are supporters of our programs that you can easily connect with to amplify your voice. Be sure to share the appropriate SHAPE America Position Statements with fellow advocates to streamline your message.

Tip #2: Engage your local school community through email, newsletters, websites, and social media and include guidance documents and position statements to support your content.

Tip #3: Understand your school and district funding, including Title I, Title II, Title IV-A, Title IV-B, and state and local funding. Getting access to your school/district funding can sometimes be challenging. Start with your department chair or district HPE lead to see if any federal funds are available to support your program. You can also speak to your principal or district federal programs staff, if applicable. It’s also important to know that you might hear “no” a few times, but continuing to advocate after you’ve been told no, especially with other HPE champions, can make a difference. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to advocating for federal programs at your school/district, so don’t be afraid to find the best approach for you to be included in those conversations. Learn more about understanding federal funding at the end of this blog post.

Tip #4: Search for grants and other funding opportunities in your area or nationally. There are a few resources that can help support your search, including the SPARK PE Grant Finder, Gopher Physical Education Grant Opportunities, and  Fuel Up to Play 60.

Advocate for HPE at the State Level

Tip #5: Engage with your state SHAPE organization. Membership in your state organization is an integral step to support your advocacy efforts.

Tip #6: Connect with other school or district advocates in your state.Build relationships, stay connected through social media, and build a tribe of advocates in your local community.

Tip #7: Stay aware of state or local bills or laws that impact HPE programs and engage in the process. If you meet with a representative, be sure to follow up! Say thanks and tell them you can’t wait for them to visit (at any level).

Tip #8: Do your homework (tailor your efforts). Everything you need to know is on the congressional representative’s website.

Advocate for HPE at the National Level

Tip #9: Engage in the SHAPE America community. Participate in the Exchange online community, join a committee or program council, read the SHAPE America Blog, and use the SHAPE America website to access resources

Tip #10: Attend SHAPE America’s SPEAK Out! Day.

Tip #11: Attend the SHAPE America National Convention & Expo.

HPE advocates wear colorful sneakers to Capitol Hill for SPEAK Out! Day.

General Tips for Effective Advocacy at Any Level

Tip #12: Share meaningful stories + DATA (drawings/student work also encouraged). Using evidence to support compelling stories is an effective advocacy strategy that stakeholders will appreciate when advocating further on your behalf.

Tip #13: Get active on social media platforms to connect with HPE champions from across the globe. On Twitter, use hashtags like #SHAPEAdvocacy and tag local representatives of Congress when appropriate (if it wasn’t posted on Twitter it didn’t happen).

A Note on Understanding Federal Funding…

When it’s time to have the conversations about available funding for your school, it’s important to know the basics of federal funding and how to use the language in the laws to advocate for your programs.

Here are some important tips for using federal funds:

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the federal law that governs schools in the United States.
  • ESSA funding includes several funding streams, but the ones that are most commonly utilized are Title I, Title II, and Title IV-A.
  • ESSA identifies school health and physical education as part of a student’s “well-rounded education.” This is the first time HPE programs have been mentioned specifically in federal law. It’s a student’s civil right to have access to a well-rounded education and when schools don’t provide HPE programs to all students it is a violation of those rights.
  • The words “core subjects” are no longer found in federal law. “Well-rounded education” includes 18 subject areas, two of which are health and physical education. When school and district leaders refer to “core subjects” as being more important to fund than HPE programs, it’s an opportunity for us to advocate with appropriate federal language.
  • Understanding what can be purchased with each of the funding streams is a valuable tool for advocacy. The Arizona Department of Education created the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Federal Funding Guide, which can be very useful in your advocacy efforts.

Call to Action

Keep these tips handy and remember that the answer is always “no” until you ask. Let’s continue to improve the quality and quantity of health and physical education in the United States. Your voice matters.

Additional Resources

Lisa Paulson

Lisa Paulson is Ph.D. candidate at the University of Northern Colorado. She is a former PETE/HETE faculty member at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Prior to higher education, Lisa taught elementary PE in Hutchinson, MN. She is chair of the SHAPE America Physical Activity Council. Contact her on Twitter @pauls640 or via email at lpaulson88@gmail.com.

Keri Schoeff

Keri Schoeff currently serves as the Safe, Healthy & Active Students Specialist for the Arizona Department of Education where she provides leadership and professional development on all components of Title IV-A programming, specifically ensuring that every student is provided with a safe, healthy, active, and supportive learning environment.