Member Spotlight – Mario Reyna

Getting a Piece of a $1.1 Billion Pie

Health and physical educators are no strangers to the challenge of securing sufficient funds to create or maintain a high-quality program. Since the recent announcement that $1.1 billion in Title IV, Part A, ESSA funding has been approved for FY2018, many educators might be asking themselves, “What do I need to do to get some of that money for my program? What resources are available to help me in the process? And what justification can I offer for my program receiving the funding it needs?” In a recent interview, longtime SHAPE America member, newly elected Board Member, and current Chair of the 50 Million Strong committee Mario Reyna shared with us his answers to these questions and how he was able to access $40,000 of his school district’s Title IVA ESSA funding for this school year.

“It all starts with keeping our legislators informed, and SHAPE America’s SPEAK Out! Day is a huge part of that,” Mario said. He has attended SPEAK Out! Day twice himself, but when he cannot attend he still looks for ways to advocate. “I reached out locally to Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, who loves visiting schools. I invited him to visit a few of the schools in my district, and I actually ended up driving him that day. During our time in the car and after visiting four or five schools we got to talking about funding, for which he expressed support.” Mario emphasized, “Even if we cannot always attend SPEAK Out! Day, we can still be lobbyists at the local level!”

The next step is to tap into helpful resources that are already available. “I don’t have to do my own homework to find out about ESSA,” said Mario. “Through [Director, Public Policy and Advocacy] Carly Wright and the SHAPE America advocacy web site I became well informed on how to ‘get to the table’. I have shared the SHAPE America resources with others, and in many cases, the information is new to people.” Mario said that as soon as something new becomes available, he shares it with his key stakeholders. One stakeholder even admitted, “I am becoming better informed on ESSA through Mario than other sources!” Mario continued, “Our obligation as leaders is to stay informed. I am no expert, but I know enough to feel comfortable talking about it to decision-makers.”

ESSA funding [impacts] academics through the development of the whole child in order to produce a well-rounded education for all students. Physical education is one of the critical success factors that creates an avenue to impact student learning and the total development of the child. The professional learning and equipment purchased by ESSA funds is paying dividends for McAllen ISD students, parents and the community." — Anjanette Garza, McAllen ISD director of state and federal programs.

The third step is to justify the reasons for asking for funding. “Once you get to the table,” Mario explained, “make sure you know the buzzwords — ‘whole child’, ‘well-rounded education’, and so on — and be ready to explain how health and physical education contribute to the whole child. Make stakeholders see that education is not just about academics, it’s also about kid’s well-being and social-emotional development.”

Mario Reyna ESSA fundingAs Coordinator for Health and Physical Education at McAllen Independent School District in McAllen, Texas, Mario filled out the forms required by his school district to request funding (each district will have its own forms that educators must fill out). “You have to justify why you need the money and what you will do with it. It was not a very time-consuming process but, even if it had been, I was willing to spend the time in order to receive $40,000 for my district!” Mario added, “Once I knew I was getting the money I applied for, I wanted to find ways to make it stretch, such as by looking for vendor discounts and following some of the suggestions provided in the book Spending Money Wisely: Getting the Most from School District Budgets [by Levenson, Baehr, Smith, & Sullivan].” Mario used the funds to purchase DrumFit equipment (large physio balls, drumsticks) and offer professional development for his elementary and middle school teachers. He used the new equipment for the grand finale of the McAllen High Physical Education (PE) Showcase, an annual event for which 300 students gather to showcase what they learned in PE. He also used the equipment at a parent-teacher meeting to show how more PE funding was helping their kids’ education.

The final step of the process is public relations. “Once you’ve invested the money, it will be important to show how student learning is being impacted and how the new equipment contributes toward whole-child development.” Mario would “text and call the superintendent to try to get him to see the kids with their DrumFit equipment and would stay in touch via email throughout the year to continue to develop the relationship.” The McAllen High PE Showcase resulted in very good publicity for the PE department. “If you show them how the funds really impact kids, you make it harder for them to say no to you next time,” said Mario.

Mario is already planning on requesting $50,000 for the next school year. “I need to think about what the district needs. This time I would like to request funding for wrist heart-rate monitors for the middle school students and increase the number of physio balls for the elementary students.” But future success will depend on keeping up with existing relationships and building new ones, or as Mario described it, “lobbying within the lobbying.”

One of the key resources that have informed and helped Mario are the “10 Top Tools for Health and Physical Educators,” available on the SHAPE America advocacy website. SHAPE America provides a wealth of additional resources and updates to help anyone who wishes to become a health and physical education advocacy expert. Mario would be happy to answer any questions or provide additional ideas ([email protected]).