By Polly Keary, Editor
Recess, that twice-daily institution of elementary education, could become a once-daily play break for Monroe School District kids.
School district officials are considering doing away with one recess a day in order to create more learning time.
The measure is in response to a pernicious scheduling challenge, said school district superintendent Ken Hoover Friday.
“Our principals each year put together a master schedule for the school year, and it is incredibly complicated,” he said.
The principals try to coordinate “specialist” classes such as music, art or P.E. with teacher planning time, math, science and language classes and other activities. And currently there is a 25-minute lunch and two 15-minute recesses; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That results in a day that is pretty chopped-up, said school district spokesperson Rosemary O’Neil.
“You might come back form lunch recess, and then 30 minutes later you go to a specialist,” she said. “Then you come back and there’s 40 minutes for science, and by the time you set up a experiment, and let kids investigate and absorb what they have learned and give kids a kid a chance to dig deeper, you have to go to another event.”
So some teachers came forward with a proposal; what if there was just one recess per day, in addition to lunch break? That would allow for longer chunks of time that could be used for more thorough lessons.
The kids could have alternating recess; morning or afternoon, depending on their specialists.
It’s not without precedent; Montessori schools emphasize three-hour learning blocks, and the Sultan, Lake Stevens and Mukilteo school districts have a similar model, said O’Neil.
The idea was brought forward to the school board and, while the board members took the proposal under advisement, some parents were alarmed at the idea.
“That seems crazy to me!” one parent posted on a Facebook discussion page. “Our kids need time to move their bodies so that they may learn in the classroom.”
Another parent cited a Time.com article that reports that pediatricians say recess is as important as class time in helping students achieve optimal performance.
And some teachers are adamantly opposed.
“There is always too much to do in the time we have,” one teacher commented. “But class time without breaks is not productive and this is not going to benefit my students.”
People with various perspectives discussed the matter at a recent school board meeting, and the school board will continue to consider the proposal, said O’Neil.
Some of the suggestions parents have offered as an alternative aren’t practicable, she said.
For example, it isn’t possible to just add 20 minutes to each school day without considerable staff time cost and without reopening everyone’s contracts.
“We have to stay within the finite day we have,” she said. “We have flexibility about what we do in that day.”
And while many parents envision kids sitting at a desk for three hours straight, in fact, kids move around a lot in today’s classrooms, she went on.
“Classes are not like that now,” she said.
Some teachers, however, have said that current academic standards don’t allow for a lot of project-based learning in any case.
“Due to the academic rigor of our day, the kids actually need more of a break!” one teacher stated.
The measure would also free up a lot of para-educator time, O’Neil mentioned; currently para-educators supervise recess as well as assist in classrooms. In total, kids would wind up getting 45 more hours of instructional time by the end of the year, she added.
And that time could be used to make sure kids have access to a full array of educational opportunities, she suggested.
“No one wants to hear that there was no art because there wasn’t time,” she said.
The school district is encouraging parents to comment. The school district must finalize the academic calendar by the start of the 2013-2014 school year in the fall.
“We are looking for a lot of creativity,” said O’Neil. “The more minds that come together, the better ideas we get.”