M.P.H. program helps launch Community Recess Initiative in Des Moines

Students and staff at Hanawalt Elementary break in their new track

Students and staff at Hanawalt Elementary in Des Moines raced around their new track at a “ribbon-running” ceremony on September 23. The renovated recreation area, designed to serve both the school and the community, includes a three-lane track, resurfaced play courts and an open park lawn. The site is a result of a public-private partnership between the Polk County Board of Supervisors, RDG Planning & Design, Des Moines University, Hanawalt Elementary and Des Moines Public Schools to promote public health and improve the outdoor physical activity environment for students and the community.

The Hanawalt project is the first phase in a Community Recess Initiative aimed at restoring landscape to invite students and the public to get outside. DMU’s master of public health (M.P.H.) program got involved through an existing partnership with RDG Planning & Design. For the past year and a half, the program has served as a consultant to help infuse public health into RDG’s designs.

“There is increased awareness of how public health can benefit from planning and built environments,” says Mary Mincer-Hansen, RN, Ph.D., chair and program director of the M.P.H. program. “Research shows improved school performance can be related to increased physical activity. From a community perspective, we know healthy workers are more productive. This increased awareness will enhance the use of these kinds of facilities by both students and members of the community.”

The planning of Hanawalt Elementary’s recreation area was also aided by Kathleen Dennis Aren, M.P.H.’13, and Rebecca Goldsmith, M.P.H.’13, who performed research for RDG as part of their capstone projects. The research focused on topics surrounding public health and the built environment.

“During interviews with experts from a wide spectrum of fields, we found that it was commonly agreed upon that increased opportunities and facilities promoting physical activity in neighborhoods could have a positive effect on the overall health and well-being of the community,” says Dennis Aren.

“The focus of my research was on how the children and the entire community would benefit from the improvements in the built environment,” adds Goldsmith. “This research indicates that mental, physical and physiological health can be enhanced by the creation of our community track and outdoor space.”

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