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New law can help shape a healthier Oklahoma

BY AMBER ENGLAND Published: November 3, 2012

Schools have long been viewed as the heart and soul of communities across Oklahoma, serving as gathering places for little league practices, cheerleader tryouts, Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings and civic get-togethers. They've supplied safe places to play for generations and added value to the community beyond their most basic function of educating children.

However, for fear of costly lawsuits and their potential drain to already-strained budgets, schools across Oklahoma have begun to lock their doors and turn out their lights after school ends each day.

Why does this matter? Because Oklahoma children aren't getting adequate recreational opportunities during and after school hours. They're too often left unsupervised and unengaged in their communities once the school day concludes. The health of our children and the overall well-being of Oklahoma communities are suffering; Oklahoma ranks 48th in overall health, one in three Oklahoma kids is overweight or obese, and Oklahomans are among the least physically active in the nation.

Increasing access to recreational facilities at schools has emerged as one of the most promising strategies for creating more opportunities for Oklahoma children and families and for improving the safety and health of Oklahoma's communities. This promise is rooted in the realization that even the most poorly designed and underserved neighborhoods include schools. In an era of never-ending budget shortfalls, maximizing access to existing facilities — rather than trying to construct new ones — is the most efficient and economical use of public resources. School facilities naturally fill that role in every community.

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