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Orlando Sentinel: Recess Vanishing
            Date: Sunday, October 24, 2004 Section: A SECTION
            Edition: FINAL Page: A1
            Source: Kumari Kelly, Sentinel Staff Writer 

            Type: FEATURE 

      DOWNPLAYING RECESS
      MANY EDUCATORS SAY PLAYTIME IS A NECESSARY PART OF EDUCATION, BUT IT IS
      SHRINKING TO MAKE ROOM FOR CLASS TIME IN FLORIDA'S SCHOOLS. 

      CLERMONT -- Their pigtails fly up and down like braided, flapping wings.
      Three elementary-school girls bounce between two others who hold the jump
      rope. If they take turns jumping, they'll have no more than two minutes
      apiece before they have to go back into the classroom.
      As at many schools in Central Florida, the kids at Clermont Elementary
      School have only five to 10 minutes during their school day to play.
      Many others don't get that much.
      Experts say about 40 percent of Florida's public schools have either
      eliminated or are reducing recess, as a growing trend to shrink playground
      time pervades the American education system.
      As schools spend more time on standardized testing and many become
      increasingly crowded, squeezing already strapped staff, principals often
      jettison the free time to meet mandatory requirements for instruction.
      Experts and parents decry the move, but state education officials say it's
      a local issue, and they have no plans to intervene.
      Many educators, though, say the trend harms kids not only socially and
      physically, but academically as well. Minorities and children with special
      needs could be affected the most.
      Many kids agree.
      "If we did have recess, I'd be able to pay attention better," said Rebecca
      Enright, a fifth-grader in Ocala. "I wouldn't be all hyper."
      WHERE DID IT GO?
      Recess, a mainstay of the school experience for many adults, began
      vanishing in school districts in the United States years ago. In 2000, the
      U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented that nearly 30
      percent of the nation's elementary schools did not provide regular recess.
      Parents often have little idea that it's happening, assuming recess is as
      much a part of their children's school day as tiny milk cartons and No. 2
      pencils.
      They may not think to ask. Most school districts give principals
      discretion on whether to schedule recess.
      But as schools in Florida grow, demands for better scores on standardized
      exams increase. The result: Child-led free time, known by generations of
      American children as "recess," fades away at many schools.
      Even in a school that allows short breaks, it's common for an
      elementary-school child in Central Florida to go weeks without
      experiencing one. That's because some schools may withhold these breaks
      for minor indiscretions such as a parent's not signing a school paper.
      Unlike federal labor laws that control an adult's workday, there are no
      federal or state laws requiring the youngest schoolchildren to have
      recess. Only two states -- Michigan and Virginia -- have passed laws
      requiring daily "child-initiated" playtime in the school day. Connecticut
      is expected to follow.
      In Florida, three bills that addressed more physical activity for
      elementary-school children died in subcommittees in the Legislature's 2004
      session. Instead, lawmakers decided to study it. School districts were
      asked to send in their physical-education policies for review by a state
      task force later this year.
      "How many years are we going to study this?" said Jeanne Fifer, a Corner
      Lake Middle School wellness teacher who is a proponent of both recess and
      physical education for all elementary-school children. The B-rated school
      has a dozen phys-ed teachers and a wide variety of activities ranging from
      flag football to indoor-cycling classes.
      "I get about 30 e-mails every couple of days and of those, 15 will be from
      Florida," said Rhonda Clements, a professor of education at Hofstra
      University and president of the American Association for a Child's Right
      to Play. The group lobbies for more recess across the country.
      "Some schools in Florida have beautiful playgrounds, but no one is on
      them."
      In Polk County, where hurricanes robbed kids of 14 school days this year,
      the crunch has never been worse.
      "We are so strapped for instructional time," Liz Miles, Polk assistant
      superintendent of instruction, said of the post-hurricane school year.
      "Field trips, concerts -- these kinds of things -- might have to go too."
      Crowding in schools has contributed as well.
      Florida puts more kids in its schools than any other state. The average
      Florida elementary school has 694 students, while New York has about 576
      kids per school.
      Jose Perez, principal at Loughman Elementary in north Polk County,
      remembers recesses from his New York City upbringing.
      "As a child, it was beneficial," he said. "When I got back to class, I was
      ready to get back to learning."
      But even with his own positive experience, he doesn't allow daily recess
      for most of the kids at his 900-student school. Only the youngest --
      kindergartners -- still get a daily recess break tacked on to their
      lunchtime. "We don't have the personnel to supervise them," he said. "And
      we don't have a space large enough."
      Some school officials cite potential liability and safety issues as well.
      `TIME TO RUN AROUND'
      Kristyn Phillips, 9, enrolled at Tildenville Elementary School in Winter
      Garden this school year.
      Coming from another Orange County school with daily recess breaks, the
      fourth-grader was stunned to have had only two so far this school year.
      She said that after lunch, her class usually lines up in the hall and then
      goes straight back to the classroom where math work awaits.
      "I'm used to having recess, and I think every kid should have recess every
      day," she said. "I know school is for learning, but there should be time
      for every kid to run around."
      Rebecca Enright, the Ocala fifth-grader, has never had regular recesses.
      Her mom, Andrea Enright, wishes things were different.
      "I am sad, and I feel that my children have missed out on a special part
      of childhood by not having free recess time during their school day.
      They've received less exercise and less socialization opportunities," she
      said.
      Kids like Kristyn and Rebecca could have a tougher time making friends, be
      less focused during class and likely score worse on a standardized test
      than peers in a school that does allow more break time, experts say.
      Children, especially minorities or those adjusting to new surroundings,
      benefit from time to make new friends and play in recess games with peers,
      says Anthony Pelligrini, a University of Minnesota researcher, who has
      studied the recess topic extensively.
      Clements, the Hofstra professor, likewise said children with special needs
      often thrive most with recess. So removing that option may take away one
      of the few areas in which they excel.
      Substituting structured -- and sometimes graded -- physical-education time
      with recess isn't an apples-to-apples switch, recess advocates say.
      Physical education is vital for helping combat problems such as childhood
      obesity, experts say, but still nearly half of the nation's elementary
      schools do not have phys-ed programs either.
      Recess fills a different need, often allowing kids to develop leadership
      skills and helping the youngest children adjust to school.
      "Telling a kid to walk around the track is still telling a kid what to do,
      and that's no more a break than your boss telling you to carry a box of
      paper to the copy machine and telling you that's your break," said Lori
      Laughrey, of Hillsborough County, who decided this year to home-school
      after unsuccessfully fighting for more recess time in that district.
      OPTIONS AND ALTERNATIVES
      Nina Kuhn, principal of the Oakland Avenue Charter School in west Orange
      County, loves recess.
      Little wonder.
      Scores of children hug her as they pass on the way to their break.
      In only its second year, the 680-student charter school still offers
      recess -- every day. The day there is 45 minutes longer than the state
      requires, allowing for a recess of 15-20 minutes in addition to lunch.
      Teachers there have discussed extending the day even more.
      "How attentive are they going to be?" Kuhn said of kids if they don't have
      a break. "How many of us as adults could attentively sit all day with the
      exception of lunch?"
      The school's FCAT scores haven't been harmed. Sixty-nine percent of
      third-graders read at their grade level or above, whereas at Tildenville,
      where Kristyn Phillips usually doesn't get a recess, only 47 percent of
      kids do as well.
      Experts say that's not surprising. For instance, Pelligrini's research
      shows children are better able to focus on school work immediately after a
      break. Principals, though, are faced with mandatory instructional times,
      such as 90 minutes each day for reading, and recess often goes first to
      make room for that.
      "I think it's an outgrowth of the testing mania that's gripped schools in
      the last few years," said Mark Pudlow, of the Florida Educators
      Association.
      "We see a problem with it."
      WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
      Feeling outrage is appropriate, recess advocates say.
      With little data backing up the reasons to nix recess and many documented
      reasons not to, parents should involve themselves, Clements said.
      Quizzing children about their school day is a first step.
      Connecting with other parents who have kids at the same grade level and
      sharing concerns often lead to productive conversations.
      "Go in and educate the principal on the value and need for recess,"
      Clements said.
      In Florida, though, there is little momentum coming from those making the
      day-to-day decisions to push for longer recesses.
      Said Cleamstine Caple, principal of Clermont Elementary School, "I like
      the five to 10 minutes, because they have so many other things to do."

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Discussion

One thought on “Orlando Sentinel: Recess Vanishing

  1. If children don’t get to play as children, without adults messing things up, exactly when do they get to be children and play? Anyone?

    Posted by Charles | November 17, 2008, 4:07 am

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