CDC and SHAPE publish guidelines on recess

What are the best policies for recess in grades K-12? This question was recently answered by two new publications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SHAPE America—Society of Healthy and Physical Educators. Strategies for Recess in Schools and Recess Planning in Schools: A Guide to Putting Strategies for Recess Into Practice, can be downloaded free of charge at shapeamerica.org/recess.

Here are some of the suggestions:

➤Prohibiting the replacement of physical education with recess or using recess to meet time requirements for physical education policies.
➤Providing schools and students with adequate spaces, facilities, equipment, and supplies for recess.
➤Ensuring that spaces and facilities for recess meet or exceed recommended safety standards.
➤Prohibiting the exclusion of students from recess for disciplinary reasons or academic performance in the classroom.
➤Prohibiting the use of physical activity during recess as punishment.
➤Providing recess before lunch.
➤Providing staff members who lead or supervise recess with ongoing professional development.

“This is a milestone in our quest to increase children’s physical activity levels. Daily recess, monitored by well-trained staff or volunteers, can optimize a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development,” says SHAPE America Chief Executive Officer E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D. “Recess contributes to the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity for students and helps them apply the knowledge and skills they learn in an effective health and physical education program. In addition, recess supports 50 Million Strong, SHAPE America’s commitment to empower all kids to lead active and healthy lives.”

Strategies for Recess in Schools defines recess and identifies 19 evidence-based strategies schools can implement that increase student physical activity and academic achievement. Although most of the evidence and expert opinion for these strategies came from elementary schools, many of the strategies are also applicable to secondary schools. The intent is for school staff or groups working with schools to identify what is currently happening or not happening with recess in their school, and then use this information to develop a recess plan that serves all students.

Recess Planning in Schools: A Guide to Putting Strategies for Recess Into Practice complements the strategies document by guiding schools through the process of developing a written recess plan that incorporates the identified strategies. In addition, CDC and SHAPE America developed a customizable Recess Planning Template, which enables schools to record details of how they will organize and implement recess at school.

Tennessee schools are required to provide time for non-structured physical activity

A new state law in Tennessee requires kindergartners and first graders to get 225 minutes of unstructured physical activity a week, and second through sixth graders must get 160 minutes per week.

News Channel 11 reports that the department of education is helping schools comply with the new physical activity law.  School districts were sent a memo in December explaining that “classroom activity breaks like Go Noodle cannot count towards the law because they are structured activities and the law requires activities to be non-structured.”

Channel 11 reports that local school districts would like to see more clarification or even changes. Greene County Director of Schools David McLain suggested that a law simply saying kids need 45 minutes a day of physical activity would be better.

D.C. schools don’t provide enough time for physical education

Almost the entire D.C. school district is ignoring its PE requirements. The Washington Post reports that very few schools in the District of Columbia meet the physical education standard required by the D.C. Healthy Schools Act. This act, passed in 2010, requires school to provide 150 minutes per week of physical education for grades K-5 and 225 minutes per week for grades 6-8.

“Most elementary schools offered between 45 and 90 minutes weekly of physical education,” the Post reports.

School administrators argue that the law puts schools in a difficult position. Middle schools facing the 225-minute requirement probably would have to add an additional PE teacher and make complex scheduling decisions that would eat into traditional classes, says Irene Holtzman, the executive director of FOCUS, the principal advocate for charter schools in the District.

Here is the portion of the D.C. Healthy Schools Act that covers physical education: [Read more…]

Sending report cards on students’ weight to parents may not be very helpful

‘Body’ report cards aren’t influencing Arkansas teenagers. The New York Times reports that a new study of high school juniors and seniors in Arkansas shows that letters regarding their body mass index (B.M.I..) that were sent to families had almost no effect on rates of obesity.The disappointing results not only raise questions about the efficacy of the letters but highlight the challenges schools face more generally in addressing adolescent obesity.”

Kevin A. Gee, the author of the study, which looked at high school juniors and seniors in Arkansas and appears in The Journal of Adolescent Health, said that while the letters attempted to embed in a school setting the public-health goal of slowing obesity, the reality of adolescence could confound the best intentions.

“The typical 16-year-old’s reaction to getting a letter at home and having your parents tell you to eat right and exercise, would be, ‘Don’t nag me,’ said Dr. Gee, an assistant professor of education policy at the University of California, Davis.

The Times reports that 25 states weigh public school students to monitor population data on obesity rates. Ten of these states notify parents of the results. Dominique G. Ruggieri, a faculty fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Public Health Initiatives, said in an interview that the letters could be an important resource for parents:

Still, she said, the impact of the letters depended largely on their content and means of delivery. Some districts send three-page letters, explaining that the B.M.I. score is screening tool, not a diagnosis, and offer practical follow-up suggestions. Other districts send home merely a number on a slip of paper.

And some districts that cannot afford to mail the letters, she added, hand them to students. That may likely guarantee that the delivery will be rerouted: Either the letter descends in the bottom of that archaeological dig known as the backpack, or the student tosses it away.

 

Fairfax County does not specify a maximum amount of time for recess

When elementary schedules were being constructed for this school year, a 20-minute minimum time for recess was communicated to principals, according to Brandynn Reaves, FOIA officer/public information specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools. “There are no maximum times for recess being communicated to principals.”

Reaves was responding to questions I emailed about whether there is a maximum amount of time allowed for recess and whether FCPS had given principals and teachers new written directives about recess.

In the email she sent me October 22, Reaves said, “We instituted a new regulation that addresses recess.  Currently, School Board Regulation 3218.3 Section III.A.3.h states:

“h. Ensures physical education teachers provide no fewer than two instructional segments totaling a minimum of 60 minutes of instruction weekly for students in kindergarten through grade six. Two or more instructional segments totaling a minimum of 90 minutes is recommended. The Code of Virginia Section 22.1-253.13:1 requires a plan for physical fitness for all students of at least 150 minutes per week. Plans for 150 minutes of physical fitness must include 60 minutes of physical education and a minimum of 15 minutes of daily recess as required by 8VAC20-131-200. Remaining time needed to meet the Virginia requirements may be provided by additional physical education or recess.

“However, when elementary schedules were being constructed for this school year, a 20 minute minimum was communicated to principals. This was discussed at the School Board meeting June 26, 2014 – Regular Meeting No. 22-  Master Calendar Revision 2014-2015:

The FCPS regulation is not precise when it says that the Code of Virginia requires a plan for physical fitness for all students of at least 150 minutes per week. Chapter 13.2 Standards of quality, includes the following provision

§ 22.1-253.13:1. Standard 1. Instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning and other educational objectives….

D. Local school boards shall also implement the following:…

15. A program of physical fitness available to all students with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year. Such program may include any combination of (i) physical education classes, (ii) extracurricular athletics, or (iii) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of such program during the regular school year.”

Even though the state “goal” of 150 minutes of physical fitness is not a strict requirement, I don’t understand why the FCPS regulation only calls for 15 minutes of daily recess. That would amount to 75 minutes per week. For the schools which offer only 60 minutes of P.E., the total amount of physical fitness provided by P.E. and recess would be only 135 minutes.

In answer to my question about whether FCPS specifies a maximum amount of time for recess, Reaves explained,

“There are no maximum times for recess being communicated to principals; again, state requirements only mention ‘a daily recess’.  The Code of Virginia, 8 VAC 20-131-200 states:

“Extracurricular and other school activities, recess.

A. School sponsored extracurricular activities shall be under the direct supervision of the staff and shall contribute to the educational objectives of the school. Extracurricular activities must be organized to avoid interrupting the instructional program. Extracurricular activities shall not be permitted to interfere with the student’s required instructional activities. Extracurricular activities and eligibility requirements shall be established and approved by the superintendent and the school board.

B. Competitive sports of a varsity nature (scheduled league games) shall be prohibited as a part of the elementary school program.

C.  Each elementary school shall provide students with a daily recess during the regular school year as determined appropriate by the school.

I also asked, “If 20 minutes is not a maximum, but schools have discretion on this matter, does FCPS have statistics on the length of recess in the various elementary schools?

Reaves answered, “Data is not collected centrally on the length of recess at each FCPS elementary school. These decisions are left to the individual schools.”

I also asked for a copy of the previous regulation, 3218.2. Section III.A.3.h in the old regulation states:

h. Ensures physical education teachers provide no fewer than two instructional segments totaling a minimum of 60 minutes of instruction weekly for students in kindergarten through grade six. Two or more instructional segments totaling a minimum of 90 minutes is recommended. Section 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia recommends that students participate in 150 minutes of physical activity weekly provided by physical education, extra-curricular activities, or other programs and physical activities.”

It’s interesting that the previous regulation referred to the state recommendation regarding 150 minutes of physical activity per week, but didn’t mention whether FCPS might ever attempt to meet this recommendation.

Fairfax does not stipulate how long recess should be

On February 27 I requested a copy of any written policy on the subject of recess in the elementary schools in Fairfax County Public Schools and any instructions to elementary school principals regarding recess. On March 14, I received a reply from Brandynn Reaves, Public Information Specialist, Department of Communications & Community Outreach.

It is significant that there is currently no written directive about the length of time that should be allowed for recess. However, we need to keep in mind that the number of hours in the current elementary school week only allows enough time for a maximum of 10 minutes per day of recess while still meeting the state requirements for the length of time in the standard school day.

Here is the information on the FCPS policy regarding recess:

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s Standards of Accreditation require a daily recess but the length of that recess or its location is not stipulated.  The Code of Virginia §22.1-207 states that physical and health education shall be emphasized throughout the public school curriculum by lessons, drills and physical exercises, and all pupils in the public elementary, middle, and high schools shall receive as part of the educational program such health instruction and physical training as shall be prescribed by the Board of Education and approved by the State Board of Health.  Here is a link to the code:  http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+22.1-207.

Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) Regulation 5008.2 addresses recess in elementary schools.  It states that “Elementary schools provide daily recess that promotes physical activity beyond physical education classes.”  For your convenience here is a link to the regulation: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fairfax/Board.nsf/files/8JYHAH478D58/$file/R5008.pdf.

Additional information about Fairfax County Public School’s Health and Physical Education program can be found at: http://www.fcps.edu/is/hpe/index.shtml.

The Office of Safety and Security (OSS) encourages teachers and administrators at elementary schools to create a safe and fun environment for recess.  When the weather is inclement or when there are extremes in temperature, FCPS will often issue warnings to administrators regarding air quality or student safety.  Here is a link to the OSS’ Cold Weather Safety Sheet: http://www.fcps.edu/fts/safety-security/publications/seh-23.pdf.  FCPS’ OSS also publishes a Safety Rules for Outdoor Recess Fact Sheet (SAF-2) and the Playground Supervision Guidelines for Staff and Volunteers Fact Sheet (SAF-33) which can be found on the OSS General School Safety Fact Sheet website.

School administrators are also reminded that the school grounds (to include the playgrounds) should be inspected daily by custodial staff to determine whether any vandalism or significant safety issues have occurred overnight. On playgrounds, school staff should be noting playground equipment or ground cover in need of repair or replenishment.

Fairfax officials avoid mention of recess in discussing exercise

The Fairfax County Public Schools administrators are trying to fly under the radar again by avoiding any mention of recess in their presentation to the Governance Work session of the school board scheduled for Monday, March 3.

One document, entitled Instructional Program, says “The Superintendent shall maintain a program of instruction that offers challenging and relevant opportunities for all students to achieve at levels defined in the Board’s Student Achievement Goals policies.”

The 12th item states that the Superintendent shall “Operate an innovative, self-supporting child nutrition program that meets or exceeds Federal guidelines and that promotes healthy choices and wellness.”

No mention of exercise as a part of wellness. The Instructional Program Operational  Expectations Measures adds information on how to measure this: “Annually update curriculum to promote healthy choices and wellness for students through the instructional program.”

Next we have Learning Environment-Treatment of Students. It states, “The Superintendent shall establish and maintain a learning environment that is safe, healthful, non-discriminatory, respectful and conducive to effective learning.”

Included in this is a requirement that the Superintendent shall “Provide school environments that are healthful for students, promoting proper exercise, nutrition, and proper sleep.”

FCPS deserves a failing grade for this metric. It is hard to talk about “promoting proper exercise” while clinging to an absurd restriction limiting recess periods to 10 minutes per day.

In the operational expectations measures for the learning environment, more details are given. Here is the section dealing with healthful environments for students:

 4. Provide school environments that are healthful for students, promoting proper exercise, nutrition, and proper sleep.

1.19 Measure
Increase in the number of students in Physical Education grades 6-12 monitoring and adjusting a nutrition and fitness plan before exiting high school

1.10 Measure
Increase in the number of sleep logs recorded by students as part of Living Fit in Fairfax Grant. Increase in the hours of sleep reported by middle and high school students.

1.11 Measure
Ratio of students supported by Social Workers, Psychologists and School Counseling professionals in comparison with national benchmarks.

It is clear from the sketchy measures listed for providing school environments that are healthful for students that the top administrators in FCPS are not at all proud of their preposterous limit of 10 minutes per day for recess. Perhaps FCPS administrators and some school board members are hoping that they don’t have to actually defend a limit of 10 minutes a day for recess. If they are not willing to defend it, why don’t they get rid of it?

Fairfax needs to stop Monday early dismissals and provide more recess time.

Witholding recess should not be used as a punishment

Jessica Lahey says that students who lose recess are the ones who need it most. Writing in the Motherlode blog in the New York Times, Lahey  says, “If we truly want our children to function at their academic, physical and mental best, teachers need to stop withholding recess, and schools need to protect it. Cutting into or taking away recess time is counter-intuitive and self-defeating. When we deprive our children of the cognitive rest and physical activity they need to perform at their best, teachers undermine the very education we seek to impart.”

In the comments section, Whitney from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) said that recess is a valuable part of the school day—for many reasons. “We actually track state level policies on recess and other types of physical activity. If you are curious about what is required in your state (if anything), take a look here: Healthy Schools.”

CC of Massachusetts said, “This is one of the many reasons my son has attended a Waldorf school for his entire education thus far (he’s in 8th grade). Not only do these kids have ample outdoor play time throughout elementary and middle school (unstructured time during which they make up games, run around, climb trees, sled) and a scheduled ‘Games’ period during which they have a more structured activity (football, handball, dodgeball, cross country skiing), they do much of their classroom learning with a physical component. Fractions are taught in the early grades by having a class repeatedly divide itself into fractions of its whole – which involves separating into groups, cooperating with each other to create groupings of correct numbers of kids, and a lot of running and giggling. This constant engagement of their whole selves helps these kids truly absorb learning, and eliminates the problem of fidgety young children being forced to sit still, against their nature, for hours at a time.”

SD of Rochester, NY,  said, “My particular pet peeve is when schools combine lunch and recess into a single period. When I was a kid, this generally meant that we wolfed down our lunch as fast as possible (or threw it away) so we could get outside. We certainly didn’t great nutrition or table manners out of that…”

Jessica Lahey responded, “there are studies that show that when kids eat lunch after recess, there is less food waste and the kids are better behaved during their lunch.”

Student physical activity bill passes Virginia Senate

Today the Virginia Senate passed a rather modest bill (SB155) that would require schools to provide a program of physical activity available to all students in grades kindergarten through five consisting of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year. There is additional language referring to grades six through 12, but I’m not clear what it means.

Here is how the bill would amend the current law:

A BILL to amend and reenact § 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia, relating to public schools; physical activity requirement.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That § 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

§ 22.1-253.13:1. Standard 1. Instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning and other educational objectives. ….

D. Local school boards shall also implement the following: ….

15. A program of physical fitness activity available to all students in grades kindergarten through five consisting of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year and available to all students in grades six through 12 with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year. Such program may include any combination of (i) physical education classes, (ii) extracurricular athletics, or (iii) recess, or (iv) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of implement such program during the regular school year.

I do not understand what the bill means in saying “available to all students in grades six through 12.” I do know that the last portion of this sentence doesn’t actually require anything. Fairfax County and other school districts know that “goal” is a legislative code word for “not required.”

The language regarding 150 minutes of physical activity per week as a goal has been in the Code of Virginia for several years and Fairfax and other school districts pay no attention to “goals” that are not actually requirements. (Actually, Fairfax even ignores some requirements–I have often mentioned that most Fairfax elementary schools don’t meet the requirements for the standard school day in the Standards of Accreditation.)

The provisions of this act would become effective beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. Virginia already requires daily recess. Recess alone could satisfy the requirements of the bill, and it is not terribly ambitious to state that recess or other physical activities should last at least 20 minutes per day. According to PilotOnline.com, “Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, asked Miller whether he would consider putting an emergency clause on the bill, an amendment to make it effective much sooner. Miller said he wouldn’t.”

Saslaw represents my district and I agree with him that the implementation would be delayed too long.

New guide for school physical activity programs is released

A new guide for schools to develop, implement, and evaluate comprehensive school physical activity programs has been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD). The guide can be downloaded at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/cspap.htm

Schools across the country will now have access to step-by-step guidance and evidence to help children and youth obtain at least 60 minutes of physical activity before, during, and after school every day.

According to AAHPERD Senior Program Manager Francesca Zavacky, one of the authors, “The guide can be read and utilized by a group that either already exists (e.g., school health council or wellness committee) or a new group or committee that is made up of physical education coordinators and teachers, classroom teachers, school administrators, recess supervisors, before- and after-school program supervisors, parents, and community members. It can be used to develop a new comprehensive school physical activity program or assess and improve an existing one.”

I hope Fairfax County takes immediate action to provide more time in the school week for the elementary schools. The current standards for something as simple as recess are not at all clear in this large school district. There is a lot of confusion about the amount of time allowed for recess. The situation should be improved by ending the inefficient Monday early dismissal policy in the elementary schools.

Since 2006, CDC has provided funding to AAHPERD to improve the quality of physical education and physical activity programs through a cooperative agreement project; development of the guide is an integral part of AAHPERD’s work plan activities. A writing team, made up of academic and education professionals, was assembled by the two organizations to develop earlier versions of the guide.

“Schools can create more active environments, where all students have the opportunity to be physically active at different times and places throughout the school day,” said Holly Hunt, Chief, CDC’s School Health Branch. “This is a timely and powerful tool that will assist all 50 states now funded to promote healthy school policies and practices through CDC’s cooperative agreement State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health. Specifically, many state health departments will work with schools to develop, implement, and evaluate comprehensive school physical activity programs (CSPAP).”

The guide is also the foundation for a new Physical Activity Leader (PAL) training being conducted across the country as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative, of which AAHPERD is a managing partner.  As part of its CDC cooperative agreement activities, AAHPERD will conduct PAL professional development training in states receiving enhanced funding as part of the CDC grants to states.