Recess Issue Still Swinging

November 25, 2006

The elementary school playground has become a battleground in Greeley-Evans School District 6.

The Greeley Parent Advocacy group turned in a petition with 475 signatures earlier this month asking that the district restore scheduled daily outdoor breaks in addition to lunchtime recess.

In a switch to a common schedule as well as an emphasis on literacy, the district this fall eliminated 15-minute recesses in the morning or afternoon at about half the elementary schools. The other half already had a lunchtime-only recess.

The move has angered some parents. Three groups — Greeley Parents Advocacy, the Coalition for Better Education and Latinos Unidos — have been especially critical of the change. They joined to circulate the petition, which focused on recess, but also asks the district to:

» Humanize and individualize the literacy program;

» Allow teachers to use their expertise in determining how to adapt curriculum to student needs;

» And reduce teacher work loads and increase their planning time.

"I really feel if they are going to continue on this course, it's going to really affect the community negatively," said Conny Jensen of Greeley Parent Advocacy. "Kids don't have time to socialize together. Kindergarten kids don't have time to talk together. That's not going to help their literacy."

District officials say it's a moot issue. Teachers are given latitude to give break times whenever they feel their classes need one. Plus, they are encouraged to incorporate student movement into class time.

"It shouldn't be prescribed," said school board member Marlene Schuman. "What happens with a prescribed recess is you get into a lesson and the bell rings and you have to get them back in and settle them back down."

Parent groups cite loads of research that supports unstructured physical play as an enhancement to students' cognitive and social development.

Schuman countered that research can be found to support either side of the argument. "I can search and find on the Internet research that says recess is bad and I can find research that says it's good," she said. "Most of our bullying problems start on the playground with recess … We have to move forward academically."

That's just the point of recess, some parents say.

Julie Hockley, who helped circulate the petition, has a son in kindergarten who doesn't get a morning recess. She said he has a hard time sitting still for long periods, and she has watched others in his class struggle, as well.

During recess, students "learn to socialize and socialize without adult supervision," Hockley said. "… You think better after you exercise."

Jeff Herring, whose kids once attended McAuliffe Elementary School in west Greeley, signed the petition. Herring, a physical education teacher in the Windsor Re-4 School District, said Greeley's move is due to pressure to improve scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. He favors more recess time for students.

"I don't feel that down at the elementary level (test scores) are the first concern," Herring said. "Getting them interested in school is the first concern."

Bruce Broderius, school board president, said District 6 will review the petition. The parent groups wanted a response by the end of this week, but Broderius said, "We have many more questions (about the petition) than we have answers."

He said he plans to seek analysis on where the signatures came from. He said the district has reason to believe some petitions were circulated among classes at the University of Northern Colorado.

"We're coming to the point we think we're operating in a really responsible and professional way with teachers and children on this recess thing," Broderius said. "Teachers have, and they're exercising, the opportunity to take their children out on recess whenever they think it's necessary — end of story."

Still, district administrators said they will reassess the common schedule — including the recess change — at the end of the school year. They will talk with teachers and principals to see if anything needs to change.

Jensen said there's a perception among parents that the school board is not interested in hearing what's happening in the community. "We feel there's not a lot of respect from the board to the issues we'd like addressed."

Board members and administrators counter that they are visiting schools weekly to get feedback from teachers and principals. Most of that input has been positive, they say.

Hockley, mother of the kindergartner, plans to continue watching how her son does in the classroom. She worries about his restlessness growing — and interest in school diminishing — without more outdoor time in later grades.

"I was in his class today for literacy block and they had stations where he moved every 15 minutes," she said. "That's better, but I think recess is valuable."

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