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Behind the Scenes: Moving Daily Recess from Practice to Policy


By our friends at Alliance for a Healthier Generation

To the average Dallas resident, it may have seemed as if the school board quickly adopted the idea of implementing mandatory recess for Dallas Independent School District’s elementary schools. Local newspapers reported that trustee Dan Micciche recommended the policy that would require a daily 20-minute recess for students in prekindergarten through fifth grade to the board in December, and a month later, the policy passed.

But behind the scenes, advocates such as Edward Titche Elementary School Nurse Susan Rhine know that getting the board to consider changing the policy in the first place was years in the making.

“Our Health and Physical Education Department, Coordinated School Health and our School Health Advisory Committee have been trying to make recess mandatory for about four years,” said Susan, who in addition to being a local health champion is also a national Ambassador for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Susan and her colleagues started building support at the school level by distributing information about the benefits of physical activity on student attentiveness and learning. The biggest argument from school administrators and teachers was that recess cut into instructional time. “Each year they thought more classroom time would improve our test scores and that recess just wasn’t needed,” Susan said.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3066","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"232","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"300"}}]]To dispel this notion, Susan printed colorful images of scans that showed children’s brains being activated after engaging in physical activity. She posted them in every classroom at her school as a constant reminder to teachers that active students learn better.

After several years, Edward Titche and several other elementary schools in the district convinced their campus administration to try 20 minutes of daily recess before lunch, which provided the added benefit of boosting students’ appetites and encouraging them to eat more of their school meals. Despite the positive outcomes and popularity with students, the recess period was cut back to 10 minutes during the last school year. “By the time teachers took the kids outside, they only had a few minutes to play before they had to go right back in,” said Susan.

That’s why she and her colleagues are thrilled that 20 minutes of recess is now mandatory for all elementary students—and next school year, mandatory daily recess time will increase to 30 minutes district-wide.

Susan believes that sharing both first-hand experiences from school leaders and the growing body of research in support of recess was instrumental to pushing her district’s policy change forward. At the board meeting before the vote, Dan Micciche shared research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which explains the benefits of recess on a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical and social wellbeing.

Susan has observed these benefits firsthand in her nine years as a school nurse. “Recess gives them a mental break from the rigors in the classroom,” she said. “It allows them time to build social skills to interact with their classmates. We believe this is about more than just the physical benefits.”