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Recess Renaissance

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 10 Oct 2011 09:53am | comments
Photo by Alleysha Tucker

The toughest part of school for some students isn't reading and arithmetic - it’s the playground. It can be the place of bullying, fights and trips the principal's office. MPB's education reporter, Annie Gilbertson reports on one program committed to revolutionizing recess.

Remember recess?

McInnis: “You get to play a lot of games, have fun, and you get to exercise while playing the games.”

5th-grader Timarhi McInnis says he knows why there's a play break in the school day. But that doesn't mean there are no rules. He says take turns, be nice and make sure to share the ball.

McInnis: “It’s important because someone might get mad and never want to be your friend anymore.  Then they’ll be mad and never talk to you anymore.”

Playworks, an AmeriCorp program new to Mississippi this year, facilitates these life lessons.  They've embedded teams of "coaches" in seven low-income, majority minority schools in Jackson.

Each grade gets at least a half hour of structured play every day.  The play area is broken down into activities such as basketball, four square and jump rope with coaches on the sidelines and sometimes joining in on the fun.   Coaches kick-off sessions with some positive vocabulary - words like inclusiveness and community.  But once the games begin, they're looking for teachable moments.

Mullen:  “A lot of the guys, especially with the sports, they get rough and they get basically into fight mode.  I’m like ‘No guys.  That’s not a part of healthy community.”

Sean Mullen is the Program Coordinator for Playworks at Johnson Elementary. 

Mullen:  “They are like ‘What?!’  I’m like, ‘Yeah! We want a healthy community that’s not always about winning all the time.  We can just have fun!’ They are like ‘Oh, we can just have fun without winning?’ It’s like a light bulb goes off in their head.” 

It's these "ah-ha"moments Mullen is looking for.

Positive playtime is considered a vital part of balanced learning.  But the National Center for Education Statistics reports that kids average only 26 minutes of play per day, including lunch, and low-income students get even less.

And program developers, such as Nancy Barrand, say if you take away play you take away a cornerstone of childhood.

Barrand: “Where do you learn how to share? Where do learn how to collaborate?  Where do you learn to work as a team to accomplish a task?  And, as a young child, how do you do it in a way that is fun? “

Barrand is a senior advisor on program development for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and got to know Playworks early on, helping the organization focus their goals so the program could be replicated.    Barrand says Playworks can influence the entire culture of schools.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation produced a report from a Gallup survey of principals showing the vast majority of behavior management challenges occur during recess.  

Barrand: “Recess for many schools is a problem. Kids get hurt. Kids get bullied and that than spills over into the classroom when they come back into the school.”

Faith Strong, Principal of Johnson Elementary, says students are more likely to be sent to her office during recess than at any other time of the day.   And that she says is reason enough to bring more structure and teaching to recess. 

Strong: “It’s really collaborative effort with Playworks.  And it actually goes along with our PBIS initiative where students receive incentives for having positive behavior.”

PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Intervention Support.  It’s a core element of Playworks and a statewide movement to cut down on disciplinary action that could negatively impact the way students see school, especially those already at risk of dropping out. Instead, they want to teach students positive behavior and educate teachers so they can identify behavior problems before an issue escalates.

 Timarhi, the 5th-grader intent on never losing a friend at recess, says Playworks taught him to stop arguments before they start.    His favorite technique is row-sham-bo, which is rock-paper-scissors by a different name.

“Instead of saying who goes first, they are doing row-sham- bo.  They don’t get mad when they lose; they just run off and go ugh!”

70,000 kids are perfecting these same problem solving techniques.  This time next year, Playworks hopes to see the number of peacemakers on the playground jump to a quarter of a million.

From the Southern Education Desk, for MPB News, I’m Annie Gilbertson.


Photo by Alleysha Tucker



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