2018-06-07 / News

Classmates unite for extended recess


Members of the recess committee play four square last Thursday after their weekly meeting at Lawn School. The students want the district to extend their recess to 20 consecutive minutes. 
PHOTO BY ANDREAVON HOHENLEITEN Members of the recess committee play four square last Thursday after their weekly meeting at Lawn School. The students want the district to extend their recess to 20 consecutive minutes. PHOTO BY ANDREAVON HOHENLEITEN Playtime is serious business.

That’s the message being touted by a committee of classmates trying to convince the district recess should be extended to 20 minutes. The students will get their chance at tonight’s school committee meeting.

Lawn School fifth-graders Eric McInteer and Kaliel Soya founded the group after they noticed briefer free periods compared to their elementary days.

“We thought that recess was really short,” McInteer said, “so we tried to get as many people as we could to help us.”

The committee meets twice a week after school to discuss the after-lunch break, which McInteer said averages about 10 minutes in length. That isn’t even enough time to play a proper game of basketball or four square, Soya added.

Rallying the troops

Although their interest in civic engagement sprouted from Christine Bernardo’s social studies class, the decision to rally around the period length wasn’t made until a particularly short recess. McInteer and Soya had math class immediately following that break, so they asked their teacher, Jennifer Kitteridge, a math question: How can we add minutes to our recess?

Kitteridge and her students uncovered a Rhode Island law, passed in June 2016, that requires all public schools with “elementary grades kindergarten through six” to have at least 20 consecutive minutes of recess. The law made Rhode Island the first state in the country to require recess as part of the school day.

Armed with this new information, McInteer and Soya formed the recess committee, which met for the first time in February. Joining the ranks were fellow fifth-graders Meadow Carpenter, Reagan Donnelly, Jacob Kajmowicz, Cassidy Lineberry, Matthew Docouto and Ariel Golinghorst.

The meetings soon caught the attention of their principal, Nate Edmunds, and he subsequently participated in the discussion. From writing papers to conducting research to collecting signatures, Edmunds has been blown away by their commitment.

“It’s meaningful to them, so it engages them,” he said. “I wish that all kids could have these types of learning experiences, because it’s deep and it’s rich.”

The committee is unsure about the wording of the recess law. Specifically, they aren’t sure if only elementary schools with fifth and sixth grades are applicable, or if it affects all schools that have those grades, including middle schools. Regardless, the students believe having a recess law in any form on the books benefits their cause.

“I think it’s meant to be elementary,” Carpenter said, “but I feel like we should all have it.”

Edmunds clarified the law, saying it only affects elementary schools that teach those grades. Middle schools like Lawn are an exception from it, although some districts have chosen to offer longer recess. While that’s not the case in Jamestown, Edmunds said the school offers alternative outdoor activities for students during the course of the school day. The hang-up, he said, is with the word “consecutive,” which he would like to see changed.

“In my heart, I know I’m providing that physical activity,” he said.

Kids driving the bus

After forming the committee, the fifth-graders began gathering research. They timed their recess every day, concluding it ranged from 5 to 15 minutes, with an average between 7 and 12 minutes. McInteer also researched public schools in Germany that have posted higher academic grades since extending their recess time to at least 15 minutes.

As an introduction to their campaign, members of the committee made a presentation during a meeting of the Lawn School improvement team. They floated several ideas to increase their recess time, from shaving minutes from their block classes to having lunch after recess. Edmunds decided to give the latter idea the go-ahead. It was tested for a few days.

“It’s hard to believe how much goes into making a small schedule change,” Edmunds said, “but we made that happen.”

Every fifth- and sixth-grader, along with faculty affected by the change, was surveyed during the trial period. Two-thirds of those polled said they preferred the original order, which led the committee back to the drawing board. They will present their revised recommendation tonight. Regardless of the results, Edmunds is impressed with how the recess committee conducted its business.

“It was really cool,” he said. “It was driven all by them.”

One possible solution that has been off the table from the start, according to McInteer, was adding more minutes to the school day to accommodate the longer recess.

“The bus schedules wouldn’t fit,” he said.

Second time around

This will be the second time the committee makes a presentation to the school board. Prior to their first meeting, the students circulated a petition around the school and received 100 signatures for their cause. They submitted that appeal to the school board during its March 1 meeting. Donnelly represented the panel.

Chairman B.J. Whitehouse was impressed. He encouraged the committee to keep a continuing dialogue with Edmunds and Ken Duva, superintendent of schools. If there is enough evidence to convince Duva, Whitehouse said, that recommendation might sway the school board.

“I really hope that it works out because I’m a huge believer in recess,” Whitehouse told Donnelly.

The recess committee has continued to meet after school to brainstorm other possible schedule changes. After transposing lunch and recess proved to be a dead end, they have focused on removing five minutes from one of their class periods. Their mission has the support of their parents, including McInteer’s mother, Debbi. She said recess is “one of the more important things” that is cut when school officials are tampering with their school days.

“I’m really happy these kids have taken charge of this project and are trying to promote their own health and welfare,” she said.

While the students gather feedback from their constituency, Edmunds has been busy talking with teaching assistants about their thoughts on a longer recess. He’s also been scrutinizing the schedule.

“Whenever you put something in, something has to come out,” he said. “Somewhere, I have to come up with 10 minutes. It compounds. If you think about 10 minutes a day, think about 50 minutes a week or 200 minutes a month. So, it is a lot of time if that’s impacting a certain subject.”

Although the year is almost over, Edmunds said the fight doesn’t end with summer break for the recess committee. The school brass has an open mind for the 2018-19 academic year.

“We’re looking to make some changes,” he said.

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