By Terry Rogers
On Monday, November 25, Mark Carter, the father of two Milford School District students, presented a petition to the Milford Board of Education requesting that students in the district be given 30 minutes of recess each day. According to Mr. Carter, the petition had more than 350 signatures from parents, Milford alumni, educators within and outside of the district, as well as citizens who feel that children need at least a 30 minute break from education each day.
“This petition came about when a group of parents were discussing the school day of their children,” Mr. Carter said. “We found there was a trend of 15 minute recesses consistently among the children, and that included walking to and from the playground, as well as bathroom breaks. We also found that teachers use recess as disciplinary action.” Mr. Carter explained that with physical education classes being reduced or eliminated, students needed more than a 10 or 15 minute break from learning each day.
“The break needs to be more than just a few minutes away from their desk at the back of the classroom, or sitting at the computer instead of listening to the teacher,” Mr. Carter said. “They need exercise, and adding recess is really low hanging fruit, it is easy to implement.” He went on to explain that recess improves social skills among children, equating the time on the playground with the break adults get when they either chat with a co-worker about the game the night before, or just to unwind and talk about something other than work.
“In addition to the leadership and teamwork kids get from recess, there is also the significant health benefit,” Mr. Carter explained. “Not all kids can afford to play sports, and for others, recess may be the only time they get to play with other children. There are even those who do not have a safe place to play outside when they get home, and, for them, a half an hour a day could be extremely beneficial.”
Mr. Carter also offered suggestions for how the district could begin to implement the increased time for recess, as he felt that he and those who signed the petition wanted to be part of the solution not simply come to the board with a problem. He suggested extending the school day slightly for elementary students in order to add the extra time for recess.
“There are volunteers in all of the elementary schools, and although stapling papers is important, why can’t we utilize them on the playground?” Mr. Carter asked. “I think that a public workshop where parents can work with the board to try to implement these changes is the best way to resolve the matter.” Mr. Carter also explained that when his children come home, they talk about the fun things they did, like learning a new game from their friends on the playground or the science experience they did, and although he is not saying that regular learning is not important, he did believe that outside play was critical to well-rounded students.
“We do understand that there are weather constraints, but there are other options available on days the weather is bad,” he explained. “We are building new schools and putting in expensive software to improve learning, but I think we need to go back to basics, and the petition illustrates that a lot of parents agree.” Mr. Carter mentioned that there were many parents in attendance at the meeting who had signed the petition and supported the additional time for recess.
“In response to Mr. Carter’s email a few weeks ago, I contacted every elementary school principal,” Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superintendent, explained. “I asked them to send me their daily agenda, and what I found, as you all probably know, is that the school day is packed. However, every principal explained that the teachers try very hard to incorporate exercise through the day, and are cognizant of how important that 15 or 20 minutes outside is each day.” Dr. Kohel explained that teachers are creative in squeezing in exercises, with some having students doing jumping jacks while reciting their multiplication tables, or taking what was known as a “Music Minute.”
“A Music Minute is used when a teacher sees the children losing focus, and they simply stop and turn on music,” she explained. “The kids are then allowed to dance or sing as a way to get their focus back on learning. Other teachers say they simply take walks through the school hallways as a way to take a break, so teachers are incorporating physical activity into a day that is already packed.” Dr. Kohel explained that it was almost impossible to have 30 minutes of recess due to the accountability requirements mandated by state and federal governments. Marvin Schelhouse, President of the Milford Board of Education, agreed with Dr. Kohel.
“The new accountability requirements from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top and now Response To Intervention have all chipped away at the time schools have to offer recess,” Mr. Schelhouse said. “There are so many pressures put on teachers today, and although you did come with solutions, we know that extending the school day is not going to happen. I am surprised that the federal government has not mandated recess with the push for healthier kids, but in our research we found that 40 percent of the schools in the United States do not have recess at all.”
The board agreed to take the petition under advisement. In other policy decisions, the board voted to table any further discussion regarding the new name change policy until March or April to give them time to identify members of the public and district staff that could assist with the policy development.