[caption id="attachment_1068" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of tungphoto"][/caption] When I was in elementary school, recess was a daily event. Our brand-new school in suburban Phoenix even had two playgrounds, one for grades K-2 and another for 3-5. Though I don’t remember a lot about those years, I do remember those playgrounds – a place where I first learned about tampons of all things. This week, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) was in the spotlight for debating the value of recess for its elementary students. HISD is the largest district in the state of Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S., serving over 200,000 students in grades K-12. Currently, there are no rules governing recess among HISD schools, except in kindergarten, which has many parents concerned. Texas law only requires that students receive 135 minutes of physical activity per week (just under 30 minutes a day) which can include P.E. The problem is that because of this lack of direction many schools are foregoing recess altogether, or limiting it to only once a week. Conflicting Policies The policies concerning recess differ from school to school in Houston, though other Texas districts have made moves to make recess mandatory. Klein ISD, located just outside of Houston, for example, requires that recess be held for 15 minutes each day and forbids teachers from withholding recess time due to behavioral or disciplinary problems. Some schools within HISD have similar policies, but the lack of legislative direction regarding those policies means that officials can change them at any time. In several schools within HISD, no recess is held at all, or it may only be held once a week. In addition, at least 25 HISD elementary schools fail to even employ a PE teacher. Deeper Focus on Academics The reasoning behind the lack of recess shouldn’t be surprising. With schools increasingly under fire for their test scores and literacy rates, administrators and teachers alike use what used to be recess time as an opportunity to concentrate on academics. As one Houston-area principle told the Houston Chronicle “Our kids cannot read. To me recess is nothing but a play period. When they go home that's what they're going to do—play.” And with HISD’s 2009 rating standing only at “academically acceptable” there is reason not to believe that extra instruction could be of benefit. However, the question remains as to whether this extra instruction should be at the expense of recess rather than in addition to it. While the idea of an extended school day has crossed the desk of many HISD administrators, the costs of doing so for the benefit of “play” have them hesitant. The Benefits of Recess The benefits of recess for both students and teachers are hardly in dispute. Many studies, including a very popular one from the Centers for Disease Control in 2009, have definitively proven that academic breaks are essential in behavioral management as well as overall academic retention and success. However, with increased pressure to perform and to do so without straining already tight budgets, teachers and principals in Houston and all over the country are making the choice to ignore the studies.
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