GREENBELT – A parent-led advocacy group has started an online petition requesting Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) to extend recess time for elementary schools.
Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS), a parent-led advocacy group out of Greenbelt, started a petition on Change.org demanding PGCPS change its policy after finding out their children receive as little as 15 minutes a day of outdoor recess time.
According to PGCPS policy document 6130 states, “Recess should be given for no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day,” leaving it up to administrations at individual schools to pick an amount of time that works for their schedule, according to Keesha Bullock, director of communications for PGCPS.
The county-wide minimum time is one of the shortest in the area. According to Howard County Board of Education policy 9090, elementary school children must 30 minutes of recess daily. Montgomery County policy allows for 20-30 minutes of recess. Fairfax County extended its recess to 20 minutes daily last October and a cut to 15 minutes of recess in Washington D. C. received backlash from parents in 2013, forcing school officials to push the minimum recess time to 20 minutes, according to a Washington Post article.
PGCAB began meeting in March after Genevieve Demos Kelley noticed many parents had similar complaints about the school system. The group, Kelley said, was founded to help foster greater parent and teacher advocacy. She said they do not typically take a group stance on any one issue, but longer recess times was something everyone could agree on.
“Normally what we stand for is greater parent and teacher involvement, especially relating to policy decisions, and greater openness and responsiveness from the school system,” she said. “With the recess issue we found that there was basically a consensus among the parents that we spoke to. I have yet to meet a parent who thinks that 15 minutes of recess isn’t inadequate. So for this particular issue, we felt comfortable about getting behind it as a group.”
Danielle Celdran, a member of PGCABS, said she is passionate about increasing movement and recess time in her son’s school. Her son Danzson, she said, needs more time to enjoy being a child at school.
“He’s excited to learn and he wants to learn, but he also needs time for enrichment,” Celdran said. “I just wish we could add more time for kids to be kids.”
Often Danzson will say he is sick or he doesn’t want to go to school, Celdran said, because he is tired of rigorous learning every day. She said children need to have some control of their day, a chance to make their own games and make friends.
“It’s a good thing to see kids grow and socialize with each other on the playground. They need these tools to grow and be independent,” she said.
Celdran said the lack of recess was at the “top of the list” of reasons why she is pulling her child from public school at the end of the school year.
“We have decided to home school him this fall,” she said. “Hopefully by the time we come back we’ll see some changes.”
Kenneth Haines, the president of Prince George’s County Educators Association, said the association does not have an “official” position on recess times, but is aware of the lack of physical movement children participate in at school.
“We have been concerned about the movement to increase ‘rigor’ in pre-school and Kindergarten through the elimination of nap time by a previous Superintendent, Dr. Hornsby, as well as the decrease in physical activity due to increased academic instruction,” he wrote in an email. “Children need movement to remain in good physical health which we consider a pre-requisite for optimal learning.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a policy statement published in 2013 recognized the importance of recess to the development of children.
“Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize,” according to the statement. “After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.”
Kelley said she was not sure what a good compromise to extend recess times would be, but said she hopes the school system can find a solution.
“Maybe the answer will be to lengthen the school day a little bit, I don’t know,” she said.
Haines also said he was not sure of what cuts or changes need to be made to allow more physical activity time, but said extending the day would be a struggle.
“That would be a subject to be settled at the bargaining table, and I would maintain that requiring teachers to spend more time at the work site would necessitate a change in compensation as well. Our teachers are already stressed to the limits of human endurance, so staffing ratios would need to be improved. There would definitely be cost implications,” he said.
PGCPS declined to comment on whether a policy change on recess is a possibility, but stated the power to change it lies with the administration.