Everybody likes local control. Nobody likes mandates.
Here’s the thing: Advocates have tried to improve and restore recess at the local level for years; in Arizona, and in other states, meetings, petitions, school board presentations, press, even teacher strikes.
In 2010, the Arizona Legislature saw the writing on the wall and invited a “local control” solution. Boards were required to review and vote on written recess policy to address unhealthy recess cuts. The Legislature (and the Arizona School Boards Association) even provided a model policy. Spoon-fed.
However, we’ve located only one district that adopted the model policy. One. Many of the rest continued diminishing child access to school-day play breaks in a misguided effort to “win” on AzMERIT. This was without stakeholder – parents and teachers – notice or consent. And at the expense of kids and classrooms. Too many Arizona schools now offer only a 15- to 20-minute lunch recess, in a six- to seven-hour day. Many teachers report having no discretion to offer more.
Mandates arrive for a reason. If schools quit teaching math, we’d mandate it. Senate Bill 1083 targets the one-recess schools that have refused to exercise “local control.” The legislation would require all Arizona schools to have at least two recess periods built into each school day for grades kindergarten through fifth grade. It was passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee this past week.
On recess, it has been local neglect. That’s why Senator Allen sponsored this very narrowly tailored bill, which was fashioned with significant school leader input and several key compromises. It’s a very small, reasonable ask to move the one-recess schools to two.
Plenty of Arizona schools still humanely offer the traditional two to three daily recess breaks for young children; check out Mountain View Prep in Cottonwood. It’s highly feasible if schools choose to not over-invest in the two AzMERIT subjects, a choice that has offered no real returns. Statutory minimum instructional hours have not changed in decades. That is not the issue. Adequate recess is a choice, a moral one.
Given multidisciplinary consensus that recess breaks improve learning, health, classroom behavior, and attendance, recess is a free and unlimited natural resource for schools. In the sea of education challenges, recess is something cost-neutral that we can do better right now, that packs a big punch.
As the late great Mister Rogers counseled: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Christine Davis, a parent in the Madison School District in Phoenix, founded the Arizonans for Recess coalition.
Clarification - Heidi Vega, director of Communications for the Arizona School Boards Association, contacted the Courier to say: "I wanted to provide you with the correct number of districts that have adopted the ASBA model policy on recess. The article indicates an incorrect number. ... The correct and accurate number is 84 school districts. ... (not only one)."