Restoring Recess

I hope you have been enjoying a play-filled summer with your family. It has been so evident to me during these few months away from school, just how much children learn and grow during play that it emphasizes just how important the fight for RECESS is for our children’s overall wellbeing.

In our local fight to SaveRecess, it was a long difficult year. It was August of last year that I was blindsided by a principal who took our children’s recess time away in favor of more “Time to the TEST” well, actually she gave us 3 reasons which she later rescinded. There I was naive about the policies and procedures and just going with the flow when out of nowhere this principal announced the changes to our children’s RECESS at the kindergarten parents breakfast on the first day of school. It was the beginning of our 6th year at this school and this decision did not sit right with any of the parents in that room. There has been a minimal amount of hate mail and condescending comments from some, but there has more importantly, been NO shortage of support, signatures on petitions, and concerned parents and teacher’s gratitude that has carried me personally through this time. When all reasons this principal gave for shortening recess began to be discounted she relied on the statement that being honest with parents was her greatest weakness, it was easy to see that RECESS was a scape goat – a chance to gain a few extra minutes here or there for more test prep. But, as a mom of 4 elementary age children I know just how important that break is during the stressful school day. And the few minutes gained to task do not outway the detriment to the children’s overall wellbeing. There is really no justification for shortening a recess period when a district allows for up to 30 minutes. Just asking a group of 70 children in a recent survey what was their favorite subject in school, 90% said RECESS. I spend a fair amount of time recalling my own childhood and sharing stories and laughing over the silly moments from playgrounds and classrooms with my kids. In those moments, as my kids are giggly and imagining the fun and sometimes crazy recesses I enjoyed as a kid, I know that the stand I took on behalf of all the students in our school and district was worth every agonizing and challenging moment last year. Proudly, I can say students returning to elementary schools later this month will get to benefit from the signatures, hours of research, school district meetings, committee meetings and confrontations.

Over the summer, CFISD finally decided to require a 20 minute MINIMUM “on the playground” policy for the 2011-2012 school year as was the recommendation made by the SHAC (student health advisory committee) back in February. In addition, if you have read this site at all, you can recall the horrible decision my principal made to allow students in our school to be removed from “non academic” classes, such as Art/MUSIC/Recess without any communication to the parent, no consent was required by our principal to have our children removed from those classes to be placed in “in-school tutoring” if they feared your child would not pass our state standardized test. Well not anymore, now, communication and consent are required before a teacher/principal can remove a child from their normal class schedule for things such as tutoring. Additionally, our principal had shortened our “large group” which consists of PE/ART/MUSIC and they are done on a rotation (but each school has to insure their students get the number of minutes required by the state in PE class. So the principal’s decision to shorten these classes caused our children to no longer meet the state requirement. This principal (and a few others in the district) tried to solve this by having the students RUN LAPS in place of either ART/MUSIC each Tuesday. Well, thankfully the district made the policy that Large Group classes are to be returned back to their full 55 minutes and students will not have to “run laps” in place of either Art/Music. These changes are absolutely done in the best interest of all the students in the district. By the end of the year (right around state testing) our principal had started having teachers use “taking away of recess” as a punishment for students who did not “study” the required minutes for the state testing. This will not be tolerated by the district anymore, either.

It was obvious to parents in our school that our principal might have been feeling the pressure to come in with new policies and carelessly put poor policies in place without thinking of the repercussions. Possibly having fallen into the trap that the test scores, the school ranking, was most important her judgment was probably not the best at the time. As it has been made well aware here at SaveRecess, there is no shortage of media addressing the issue of RECESS, locally, and nationally. Similarly, there is research on every aspect of play and its value for children most especially during the rigors of a school day. Recess is in danger across America for one reason alone, those with the power to shorten it or take it away do so in favor of increasing more “time to the test”. It is the position that the more time the students are forced to stay on task (at a desk or table inside a classroom)- the better their test scores, the better their test scores, the higher the school ranking (the better the principal appears), the better the district ranking (the better the school district administration appears), the better the districts do, the better the state education system appears… And so on, but the misconception here is that appearances matter in the WELLBEING of our children. This problem starts at the top, as pressure mounts against the American Education system because of its falling in its global rankings. Those in a position to institute real change are having their hands forced and are scrambling to fix a failing system. It has become a system that is delegating standards and score systems and testing mandates leading to corruption and scandal and sadly it is causing those in office to forget that at the center of this great debate are the lives of millions of children. It is our children’s happiness, their social development, their ability to adapt and process information, their ability to think critically, problem solve, find and use their creativity and innovation, all are being hindered for the sake of APPEARANCES.  Apparently even the Texas Chair on Education, Rep. Rob Eissler has fallen prey to “appearing” to care for what is best for our children, but in reality, when questioned about HB3770 which he SOLELY REFUSED to give a hearing that would MANDATE RECESS for all Texas school children stated, “We try to leave these things to the discretion of the people running the schools, those who are the people closest to the kids.” What Rep. Eissler forgets, is that WE PARENTS are in fact, closest to ‘the kids’ and we, sir, have voices to institute change for the benefit of our children.  Rep. Eissler may have also fallen into the trap of appearances. What a sad day it is, when this has come to be the case.  One parents comment a while back, was that she was simply stunned that those in the education field (or those in public office) seem to think “kids don’t need to play”, another questioned the rationale in “not giving kids a break” when they (the adults) all get breaks at the ‘office’.  Sometimes it just stumps me, how administrators, district personnel, principals can be so blindsided to the benefit of RECESS. Perhaps its not the lack of knowledge that RECESS is BEST for ALL children, perhaps they choose to focus on merely an outcome that matter on paper, and they forget the hearts, minds and wellbeing of the children they are here to serve???

I don’t know that there is any amount of research (because its already out there) that would wake up administrators, school board presidents, departments of education, senators and congressmen to the harm that is being done as a result of removing RECESS, and the lack of PLAY is having on our developing children. The scientific and neurological data is there, offering proof of focus and retention of material after periods of play and rest from the stress of academia. The behavioral research is there, offering proof of the attention to detail, the increased time on task (less fidgety), and the cooperation there is in classrooms. The sociological research is there, offering proof of the strategies that are simply disappearing from our children’s lives that otherwise would enable them to better handle peer pressure, conflict and social behaviors. It’s time for more districts to take the lead like is being reported. It is time for the message of, KaBooms CEO Darrell Hammond to spread into every community in America. KaBoom is responsible for the building of over 2000 playgrounds in communities across our country. And it is because of the efforts of his organization, and the likes of Playworks and countless others who have picked up the baton that the movement to SAVE and RESTORE PLAY and RECESS is as strong as it is today. The efforts of SaveRecess in CFISD was only successful because of the advocacy support these organizations have to offer. I am hopeful, that as more parents take a stand for their children and the children in their communities that not only will RECESS be restored, but neighborhood playgrounds will be filled with the laughter of our future generations as they embark on the best times of their lives. Play on….

As your children begin their school year, ask about the RECESS POLICY in your school and district. If you need any support or information on how to advocate a positive change in your school or district RECESS POLICY, feel free to contact me and I will aid you with as much information as I can and offer as much support as I am able. We have a long way to go still, but this is a big step in the right direction. Long live RECESS!

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