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Recess
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The Spectator
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 by Laramie Boyd
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C
        Remember recess in elementary school? It was almost like a prison break. When that bell rang at my school, the kids beat it out of the classroom like a bat out of.......... a cave, running and screaming in all directions. Once in a while, the kids almost waited for the teacher to dismiss them. Almost all of the students headed outside for the playground, hoping to meet up with their little clique to do whatever it was they did for the usually 15 minute break between classes. Some of the kids stayed behind in the room for some reason or other. I never knew why. Outside the playground was a helter-skelter of little people in search of something to do. Some played, some talked, some sat alone.
        Times they are a-changing, yes they are. At Cathedral City Elementary School, near Palm Springs, California, a new program is being experimented with to change the recess period from disorganized chaos, or lonely seclusion, to a structured student-game centered period for each and every kid to participate in. No more will a child be chosen last to get in a game. "No child is truly left behind." Everyone is encouraged to play, and in Cat City, a popular nickname for Cathedral City, almost every child does.
        A recess coach has been hired to run the program, which is costing around $45,000 the first year, for training and salary and supplies, in hopes of getting as many pupils as possible involved in an ordered, constructive physical activity during recess. The money so far has come from grants and private donations. The coach is hired to set up several simultaneous games, like tag, where in a designated area, kids darting and laughing, anyone can tag anyone else with a light tap on the shoulder or arm, and you're not out when tagged. You're still in the game. Or dodge-ball, where inside a circle, several balls are used to try to throw and hit some student, but the kids hit still stay in the game. No one is shut out from playing any game. And almost all of the kids at the Cathedral City school seem to be enjoying the new program. It's what one teacher called "15 minutes of good healthy fun."
        Besides a tremendous number of kids participating, some classroom teachers notice the kids who played pay a bit more attention to their studies after recess, and there seems to be less bullying and aggressive behavior on the grounds and in the classroom. And most of all, the students seem to really be loving the change from doing their own thing, which often is nothing much in the way of exercise, to showing up each day and seeing what the coach has picked for the games of the day. Attendance at school is creeping up too, it seems.
        Of course, there are always differences in opinions about any program. One parent believes that setting up a teacher-structured play period denies the kids from learning to cope with the "real world" of rejection and disappointment when not picked to play. The mother wants the kids to feel the "cuts and bruises" of life, which she believes are part of growing up, and that the kids need to go through those experiences. She thinks they should be exposed to the idea of "winning and losing," which is such a large part of growing up and becoming an adult. The question arises, "Are those the goals of elementary school recess?
        Already, the Cathedral City Board of Education is contemplating expanding the program to other elementary schools, after seeing the success at the trial school. I can't imagine anyone involved or any concerned parent objecting to this new approach to a brief period of time in a pupils day. Hundreds of schools across 21 states currently have this kind of program in place. If nothing else, maybe the program will make a dent in the number of kids who don't get enough exercise, who have unhealthy eating habits, and who need to reduce their weight. What better way to spend $45,000 on a program that so far shows tremendous promise. Let's see if each state Governor and even the President of the United States gets behind this program on a national scale. I believe it's a truly great idea and should be a high priority item.