I’m writing to you on behalf of my son, his peers and the teachers in Opelika City Schools. I see harm and neglect happening in our community. Our children are being denied their recess time.
I know recess may seem frivolous, especially with all the funding tied to testing and the recent difficulties in our schools. But the reality is that recess helps children grow academically and socially when paired with a traditional school day. Taking it away causes harm and neglects our children’s development.
I taught preschool in a nationally accredited childcare center for two years. Prior to that, I received a quality education from Auburn University. I was well prepared to become a preschool teacher. But nothing can fully prepare you to be a teacher except being a teacher. That first year was one of the hardest of my life. It’s an experience I am truly grateful for. It helped me become a better and stronger person. During that testing time, I promised myself that I would stand up for children when I saw harm of any kind being done to them. I would be their voice because I know better. And when you know better, you do better.
I contacted the main office at OCS and was told that recess isn’t necessary at this time. They told me that Physical Education is providing students the movement requirements they need. While it is true that our kids are moving during PE, it doesn’t provide the same benefits as recess. Modern PE is a structured class. Children’s brains are thinking and recalling information they are being taught. PE is wonderful and also necessary for building physical literacy and the confidence for physical activity. But recess is different. It’s not a class. Recess is time where children are free to move their bodies how they want, talk to who they want and choose their own words. They aren’t being told to sit down or to be quiet. Recess is the only time during the school day that our kids have this. Except that our children don’t. Dr. Neighbors chose to throw it out.
Research as far back as the 1980’s shows that when a child has a break during the day they perform better academically and behaviorally. It allows them time to process all the things going on in their brain and sort it out to the appropriate areas. Recess lets them take their thoughts and execute them, and when a child can follow through with their ideas, or even just talk them out, their behavior drastically improves. As a result, recess leads to less meltdowns and crying, less frustration and confusion. After recess they work more and fidget less. Children of all ages need recess to grow and develop, and its benefits are strengthened when paired with PE, not replaced by it.
The research is very clear, and teachers know it too. Our teachers didn’t choose their profession for money or prestige. They chose this path because they love children and want to help them. I know what it’s like to go to work and feel like I’m doing more harm than good. Is that really what we want for our schools? To make our teachers choose between their profession and doing what is right for our kids?
There is no way out of this for Dr. Neighbors and the school board. Nothing they say can change it. Do we want better student behavior? Data tells us recess. Do we want better test scores? Data says recess. How about improved focus and memory? Children with higher emotional intelligence, better leadership skills and conflict resolution? You guessed it: recess.
I have a petition with 335 signatures so far and have spoken directly with Dr. Neighbors. In this discussion he shared all the difficulties administrators and teachers are facing and his plans to overcome them. When the discussion moved toward recess he consistently defended his decision to increase instructional time to combat these problems rather than using current scientific understanding to make that instructional time more efficient. The up-to-date sources I have cited on my petition will show you that recess is the answer.
I think it’s time we ask ourselves why Alabama is always last in public education. Why aren’t we looking to others that are getting it right and following their lead? Why aren’t we allowing ourselves to learn new concepts and ideas to do better for our children? In fact — many of these concepts and ideas aren’t even new. Is it all of us making these inadequate decisions, or a select few?
I have made it my personal goal to educate every parent in this city about the basic right of recess. I will not stop until a change has been made. Current research suggests that children get the most benefit from 60 minutes of recess throughout their school day. I see no reason why our children deserve less. What will you do to help?