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A serious theoretical debate – over how to bring recess back to CPS

by Danielle Cadet
Feb 10, 2011

Recess: Positive or negative? That’s not the question. The question is: How to bring it back?

Research has shown that recess helps children learn, behave and be healthy.

Now, grassroots organizations are taking that research and using it to restore recess in Chicago public elementary schools. But opinions on the best way to achieve that goal differ.

Tracy Occomy Crowder is the senior organizer at Community Organizing and Family Issues, a group that conducts leadership training to encourage parent participation in local communities. She and other members of the coalition have taken their fight to Springfield, pressuring  legislators to create a task force that looks beyond research and focuses on action.

“The point of the task force is not research to prove how wonderful recess is,” Occomy said. “I think everyone around the table understands that.”

Instead, Occomy says the task force should focus on defining research in an effort to prevent schools from opting out due to technicalities such as lack of resources and time in the school day.

“You don’t actually have to have a playground to do recess,” she said. “And we are not necessarily saying you need to extend the school day to have recess. CPS has said that’s what it’s going to take, but there are ways to take advantage of what schools have.”

But Guillermo Gomez, vice president of urban affairs for the Healthy Schools Campaign, says the task force is useless unless it plans to take a serious stance on recess restoration.

“I don’t know what the functions of this task force are going to be unless you’re talking money,” he said.

Gomez delivered 4,000 petitions to the school board two years ago asking to restore recess in local schools. Although their efforts reached the state legislature, Gomez said, the bill got caught up in red tape

Lack of money and short school days are the two things standing in the way of recess returning to Chicago public schools, Gomez said.

The money is not only necessary for additional resources, but is also crucial to pay teachers to work extra hours. A strong statement from the legislature, Gomez said, is the only solution to this problem.

“We have a dire state budget where money is being cut out,” he said. “The legislators have to make the commitment and say ‘Yes we’re going to find the money for students to have recess.’”

Gomez said he fears the task force won’t change the current status of the situation and has decided instead to provide recess monitor training to volunteer parents.

“We’re doing our own part to make it happen,” he said. “We’re taking initiative.”

Regardless, Occomy believes the task force is the best option to restore recess quickly to every Chicago school.

“It’s going to take forever for everyone to have recess school by school,” she said. “That’s why this broader conversation is necessary.”

Although she remains unsure of how the task force will bring back recess, she says she hopes the task force’s work in the spring will mean recess will be back by fall.

Gomez, at Healthy Schools, said, “If you go across the board, you will have a consensus that children need a healthy school environment which includes physical education and recess.”