For more than a decade, the nonprofit Playworks has been providing trained Playworks coaches to public schools in Newark to empower children to play actively at recess and increase physical activity throughout the school day to support both physical and mental health. In 2022, HFNJ provided a $132,000 grant to Playworks to continue this work for the 22-23 school year.

Through this grant, Playworks coaches led fun and engaging fitness activities at an aggregate 7,800 recess sessions at Horton, Abington, Park, McKinley, First Avenue, Rafael Hernandez, Roberto Clemente, and Luis Munoz public schools in Newark. Playworks also trained 83 junior coaches from the student bodies to serve as peer leaders and assist the Playworks coaches.

The program is very well-received in the schools – annual survey results show that the educators at the schools have an overwhelmingly positive (in the 96-100% range) view of the quality of the services Playworks provides, and that they feel having Playworks coaches helps to improve the school climate.

Independent studies of Playworks have repeatedly proven the effectiveness of their services to teach social and emotional skills and improve the learning environment for children. The RAND Corporation named Playworks one of only seven elementary school SEL interventions to meet the highest criteria for evidence of impact under Every Student Succeeds Act.