Prince George’s secondary school eliminates recess

A Prince George’s County charter school currently serving grades 6-8 is shortening the school day by eliminating the daily 25-minute recess period. College Park Academy opened in 2013 with grades 6-7. The charter school is adding a grade every year until it reaches 12th grade and 700 students.

The charter agreement calls for a 7.5 hour-long day, from 8:25 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. Last night the Prince George’s County Board of Education approved the school’s request to move the dismissal time to 3:20 p.m. and cancel recess. This waiver request was granted on an emergency basis so that the change can go into effect immediately.

“Students at College Park Academy have had recess since the school opened a year ago,” the Washington Post reports. “According to county school regulations, middle schools are not required to offer recess, and a schools spokesman said that the county’s middle schools don’t have it. County elementary schools ‘should’ offer recess for ‘no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day,’ according to regulations in Prince George’s.”

Should schools allow a recess break every hour?

Deseret News reports, “For every 45 minutes in a Finnish classroom, students get a 15-minute break.” An American teacher who started teaching in Finland was surprised by how much more attentive students were after having a recess break after every hour of instruction. When he started teaching in Finland, he first created longer blocks of class time with a longer break later in the day. However, a fifth-grader objected, “I need my 75 minutes of recess.”

Although Walker was providing the same amount of recess, he decided to revise the schedule, putting breaks at the end of each hour.

The difference in the classroom was immediate. No more zombies. Students returned from breaks with energy and better focus. They did more with less time. They enjoyed it more. Walker was a convert.

Olga Jarret, a retired education professor at Georgia State University, has written a white paper for the U.S. Play Coalition noting that there are multiple studies that show “improved focus and classroom behavior, including less fidgeting and hyperactivity and more participation in class discussion after recess.”

Play helps in brain development

Scientists say child’s play helps build a better brain. NPR focuses on how play relates to learning. According to Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, “countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”

Pellis says children need to have plenty of time for free play without rules or coaches. He also says that play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of the brain. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.”

I wonder whether further study would find other situations where the neurons are changed. Another question would be, what is the definition of play? Can’t work be experienced as play sometimes? I’ll have to find out more about these issues.

I’m glad that Fairfax County has officially ended the previous limit of 10 minutes per day for recess; however, I hope that the new 20-minute recesses being scheduled are not necessarily a maximum amount of time. If they are, further study needs to be made of the overall time in the elementary schedule for the 2015-16 school year. There should be enough flexibility in the schedule to allow 30-minute recess periods.

Money for full-day Mondays

The Washington Post has an article regarding tonight’s agenda item for the Fairfax County School Board on allocating money for full-day Mondays in the elementary schools.

The article includes comments from some members of the Board of Supervisors on whether they would provide any additional money. I posted a comment to the article, noting that although it is probably true, as Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said, that school officials had not mentioned a need to end half-day Mondays during their lengthy budget negotiations, I mentioned it and discussed it with my supervisor, Penny Gross (D-Mason). She is well aware of how inadequate the Monday early dismissal schedule has been for the elementary schools.

Under this schedule, the only way the elementary schools can comply with the state requirements for the length of the school day would be to limit recess to 10 minutes per day. I have not heard any of the supporters of the status quo argue in favor of a limit of 10 minutes per day for recess. I have also not heard any calls for a deliberate policy of not meeting the state standards for the length of the school day. So, in essence, the school board really has no choice but to fix this inadequate schedule. The Board of Supervisors should encourage and support the schools system’s effort to remedy the serious problem with the elementary school schedule. Following state regulations is critically important. The solution must be implemented immediately, even if it means that nonrecurring funds are used.

Are children less active these days?

Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today. Angela Hanscom writes that children are not moving enough in school. As a pediatric occupational therapist, she recently tested a classroom of fifth-graders and found that most of  the children had poor core strength and balance. “In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 19890s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance.”

The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.

Letter criticizes the timeframe of the decision on full-day Mondays

A letter to the editor of the Washington Post states that Fairfax County pondered a longer school day in too short a time.

I posted the following comments:

Actually, the Fairfax County School Board has delayed this needed reform for many years. As Dan Storck said at the recent school board meeting, FCPS has been “skating on thin ice” in regards to meeting the state requirements for the standard school day.

Sivan Leviyang says of the new schedule, “With only 20 minutes of recess and lunch as breaks, this is an unhealthy situation for young children.”
She is not the only observer who is apparently unaware of the little-known fact that this school system has had a policy limiting recess to ten minutes per day for the past seven years. Schools which allowed students to have more than 10 minutes per day for recess were not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation for the length of the standard school day.

In 2006, the Virginia Board of Education adopted revised Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia. These revisions added the words “and recess” to the section on the standard school day: “The standard school day for students in grades 1 through 12 shall average at least 5-1/2 hours, excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three hours for kindergarten.”

To average a 5 1/2 hour school day, the weekly program hours must be 27.5. Adding a 30-minute lunch period bring the total to 30 hours per week. Any time over 30 hours per week could be available for recess. At the time the clarified language explaining recess went into effect in 2006, most Fairfax County elementary school students were in school for only 30 hours and 30 minutes per week. So if the schools were following the state rules, the students would have had only six minutes of recess per day. (Some schools had even less time during the week.) In 2007 Fairfax adjusted many bell schedules so that all 123 schools that had early dismissal on Mondays had 30 hours and 50 minutes per week in school, enough time to allow only 10 minutes of recess per day. This was not enough.

The ten-minute limit on recess was started in 2007

The Fairfax Connection has a great photo of the audience at the Fairfax County School Board meeting June 26 in this article: Full-Day Mondays Start in September.

However, the article is incorrect in saying, ““When Monday was chopped in half, recess time was also cut. Students had 10 minute recess breaks to make up for lost time in the classroom.”

The 10-minute per day limit on recess has been in effect since 2007, not 1971. When Monday early dismissals were first started in 1971, the length of the other days was increased. Prior to the Monday early dismissal policy, the length of time in the school week was 30 hours and 50 minutes. With Monday early dismissals, the total length was 31 hours per week. It is interesting that in recent years the total amount of time has dipped back to 30 hours and 50 minutes per week because the length of time of the early dismissals increased.

In 2006, the Virginia Board of Education adopted revised Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia. These revisions added the words “and recess” to the section on the standard school day: “The standard school day for students in grades 1 through 12 shall average at least 5-1/2 hours, excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three hours for kindergarten.”

According to Superintendent of Public Instruction Billy K. Cannaday, Jr., this change “clarifies that recess is not part of the instructional program and is not counted as instructional time.”

To average a 5 ½ hour school day, the weekly program hours must be 27.5. Adding a 30 minute lunch period totals 30 hours per week. Any additional time is available for recess. At the time the clarified language explaining that recess went into effect September 7, 2006, most Fairfax County elementary school students were in school for only 30 hours and 30 minutes per week. So 30 minutes per week, or six minutes per day was all the time available for recess for most of the schools. Twelve schools had even less time in the week, with total hours ranging from 29 hours and 50 minutes to 30 hours and 10 minutes. Some schools were in violation of the requirement that a shortened day must be at least four hours long. On the plus side, there were 16 schools that had more time in the week since they had full-day Mondays at the time.

In September 2007, FCPS lengthened the school hours to comply with the four-hour minimum day and to provide 10 minutes per day for recess—thus bringing the total weekly hours back up to 30 hours and 50 minutes. Although this 10-minute limit for recess was not changed until the vote this year on June 26, the limit was seldom actually enforced.

FCPS describes the full-day Monday plan

Here is the press release from Fairfax County Public Schools about the vote last night:

Fairfax County School Board Approves Full-Day Mondays for Elementary Schools Starting in September 2014

The Fairfax County School Board approved a master calendar change that will provide a uniform length elementary school day and eliminate the shortened Monday schedule beginning in September 2014.  This change will increase instructional time for students and will allow for 20 minutes of daily recess.  In addition, the change will guarantee dedicated planning time for elementary teachers totaling 300 minutes per week.
“After surveying both parents and teachers, we saw that parents overwhelmingly supported this change—and as soon as possible,” said Ilryong Moon, School Board Chairman. “In addition, elementary teachers have consistently cited in our working conditions survey that they need guaranteed, self-directed time for planning.”
The change also solves the challenge of meeting the annual 990 instructional hour requirement in state law, which Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) does not meet under the current shortened Monday schedule. Instead, FCPS has met the state requirement of a 180-day calendar, which resulted in sometimes having to add days to the end of the school year to make up missed days due to inclement weather. The new uniform elementary schedule will eliminate making up inclement weather days at the end of the school year if fewer than 13 days are missed.
A uniform length elementary day also provides an opportunity for an innovative school year calendar that builds in consistent holidays, such as a full two weeks for winter break, and strategic planning days throughout the year.  In addition, one master calendar will be followed for all elementary, middle, and high schools.
The change will add staff to elementary schools such as World Language teachers and other instructional specialists to provide planning time for teachers. There will be no changes in music, art, or physical education, nor changes to Regulation 4422, which limits the number of hours that librarians, and other school-based professionals, can be dedicated to providing for planning time coverage.
Superintendent Karen Garza and her staff will convene focus groups of elementary principals, teachers, school staff, and other key stakeholders in July to work out the details of the implementation. Then, each school will communicate their individual schedule changes to parents before school begins on September 2.

Details on the new 2014-15 calendar can be found here:

Garza asked the right question to encourage reform

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the Fairfax County School Board has acted to implement full-day Mondays starting in September.

At last night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Karen Garza said that one of the first questions she asked elementary school principals when she arrived in Fairfax was, “Oh my goodness…How do you address all the instructional needs of our students given our current structure?

The answers about the difficulty in meeting these needs clearly built the momentum for studying ways of restructuring the elementary school schedule. The result of that effort was seen last night in the wise decision of the school board to improve the schedule starting in September.

Thank you, Dr. Garza, for asking the right questions and for encouraging a teamwork approach to finding answers. As Ryan McElveen (at-large) said last night, this vote addressed a problem that has languished in our system for 40 years.

I will give more details on this historic meeting in future posts.

Here is the testimony I presented during the citizen participation portion of the meeting:

Thank you very much for placing the proposal for full-day Mondays on the agenda tonight. This is a major step forward in the quest for an improved schedule for our elementary schools.

Eliminating the Monday early dismissal policy and adding 2 ½ hours to the school week will be a huge benefit to the students.

The master schedules of our elementary schools have numerous priorities that compete for a limited amount of time.

We need to provide more time to meet today’s priorities.

We need to provide time for the core curriculum as well as physical activity and recess.

Currently the elementary schools have only enough time in the week to allow 10 minutes per day for recess. Schools which allow students to have more than 10 minutes per day for recess are not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation.

A 10-minute limit for recess is unreasonable. Ignoring state requirements is illegal. The substandard elementary school schedule in Fairfax should be fixed immediately so we can provide at least 20 minutes for recess while still meeting the state requirements for the standard school day.

The cost of $7.6 million for all 142 elementary schools represents an affordable investment for a very substantial improvement in the schedules for both students and teachers.

The first time I testified in favor of full-day Mondays was in 1989. The school board was considering proposals for restructuring both the secondary school day and the elementary school day. They agreed to the 7-period day for the secondary schools. They supported the concept of a uniform elementary student day but voted to delay implementation until the following year.

One of the reasons given for delay was to allow further study. The next year the school board rejected the revised proposal. This shows how a vote to delay can turn what could be a win-win situation into a “no-change” situation.

We don’t need MORE study—we need action to help children, and this WILL help children.

Please vote to adopt the proposal presented here tonight to implement a full school week starting in September 2014.

Action Alert!

Please attend the Fairfax County School Board meeting tonight! Your in-person presence can make a difference by demonstrating positive support for implementation in September 2014!

Where: Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Rd., Falls Church. (Map)

When: Thursday, June 26. Arrive by 8:00 p.m. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. with several resolutions, recognitions, and awards. The Citizen Participation portion of the meeting starts at approximately 8:30.

This is your chance to show your support. Bring a sign saying “Full-Day Mondays!”


Two former school board members will testify on the proposal for full-day Mondays at tonight’s meeting. Tina Hone will speak in favor of implementing full-day Mondays in September. Stuart Gibson will speak against it.

I will be speaker #4. Also supporting the proposal will be Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, and Michele Menapace.

Kevin Hickerson, vice president of the Fairfax Education Association, will probably urge delay of any schedule change until the 2015-16 school year. Melissa Cox will also be testifying on the full-day Mondays proposal.

Another agenda item, the Passages Monitoring Report, will be discussed by three speakers: Avis Catchings and Lolita Mancheno Smoak (both representing the Coalition of the Silence) and George Becerra.

Agenda Update

When the agenda was first posted, Action Item 4.02 was entitled Elementary Master Schedule. It has now been renamed Master Calendar Revision 2014-2015. This more inclusive title is better since it applies to all grade levels.

Yesterday a correction was made to the first bullet point listed under Key points. The bullet point now posted is accurate:

  • A uniform elementary day would increase instructional time for all elementary students and would allow for 20 minutes of daily recess for children.

The original wording included the phrase “state required” prior to “20 minutes of daily recess for children.” The state regulation does require each elementary school to provide students with a daily recess; however it does not specify a minimum amount of time for recess.