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Letter to the Editor: 'They Got Rid of Recess'

A mother of two Mohegan Elementary School students asks the Board of Education to reinstate full daily recess.

On the first day of school my daughters came home and said "they got rid of recess."  Their disappointment was obvious. I spoke with other parents and their teachers to confirm this, and sure enough recess at Mohegan School had been dramatically reduced. The students of Mohegan school went from having 30 minutes of recess 5 days a week, down to 3 days of recess per week for 15 minutes. Once you include transition time, the kids are lucky to have 10 minutes of activity. I then reached out to parents of other elementary schools in town to find if this change was district wide, that was not the case. Mohegan school was the only school to implement this reduction. Why? I could not find any resource that stated there was a benefit to removing recess.   

The timing of recess is not what is best for the students either. I have a 4th grader who has recess an hour after getting to school. This is the time in which she is ready to learn, not have recess. My 1st grader went from half day kindergarten to all day class. She has recess after 3:00, after she has been sitting in a class room all day and is now ready to go home. These students need the break in the middle of the day, after they have spent their morning learning, testing, and exploring.

What I did find was that students perform better on testing, were better behaved, and learn to socially interact in a non-structured environment. I also learned per the National Association for Sports and Physical Education that recess also gives our children the opportunity to communicate, negotiate, problem solve, learn to take turns and follow rules, and conflict resolution. Following up with the school I was told the children are supposed get 2- 15 minute energy bursts each day. In talking with other parents and students I found that is not the case. If they do the energy bursts at all they are often only 5 minutes of structured physical activity. Per the guidelines from the CT State Department of Education, these energy bursts are not a suitable replacement for recess.

Recess has always been a chance for students to get out the classroom for some unstructured fun with peers. Imagine if you had a day where every minute was accounted for, there was no down time, no free choice, no mental break from the daily routine. That is what these kids have, they don’t have the chance for down time or a daily mental break. They are told how, when, and for how long to do these energy bursts. During lunch they are told where to sit and when they can talk. These children have no freedom to make any decisions.

We have recently started a petition and begun gathering signatures. Mr. Burr, and fellow members of the board, we ask that you intervene in this matter and reinstate daily 30 minute recess at Mohegan school by the end of December.

--Aimee Cayer

Jeff November 28, 2012 at 12:44 PM
I too have a child at Mohegan School and this is just one of the many changes to the education system that has perplexed me since I passed through the same Shelton School system just 20 years ago. What I have found is that recess has definitively been replaced with other things, namely having art and music multiple times per week. Let me make a controversial statement that I'm sure could likely upset at least half of the people. Art and music is not how this country is going to recover from being knocked back on its heels and it's not going to pay the bills or mortgage in the future. No, I have no statistics to back that up but we are bombarded by American naysayers who continually point out that we are falling behind the world in math and science. And it's true! Additionally as someone who works in healthcare, played competitive sports throughout school, exercises daily, and follows a disciplined diet there is no doubt that Americans have well established bad habits. I completely owe my present health discipline to my past involvement in the Shelton School system. Now is the time to establish the desire to be disciplined and a dedication to health consciousness now and in the future. And let's not even get into the distractions that children have vs just 20 years ago!
Jeff November 28, 2012 at 12:45 PM
cont. My child is in the earlier years at Mohegan School and I was struck at the parent/teacher conference at how much this education system is geared towards teaching these kids to pass the countless mandated standardized tests. It's frightening how little a teacher must be able to operate freely and educate their children as they might see fit. That's the result of the lurking invisible hand we call the government and the bureaucrats who dictate from on high. A discussion for a different day and likely something the Mohegan parents could do little about. Again as a parent of a child in the earlier years at Mohegan I was struck by how geared the daily routine is towards reading and comprehension, which I'm fine with. At the end of the day though I've been very disapointed with how little their is with regards to science, the minimal amount of math work that is brought home, and to me a virtual complete lack of history. All again, something that could very likely be changed.
Jeff November 28, 2012 at 12:46 PM
cont. What can and should be changed is a moral mandate towards encouraging activity. As a healthcare professional observing healthcare reform, no one can confidently say what the system will be like that we are moving towards. Why, because no one knows! Certainly no one can say what healthcare will be like someday for someone who is between the ages of 5-9. What is growing more apparent is a huge push towards prevention, awareness, and of course frequent and consistent daily exercise. And there's that dirty little word Americans don't like to hear anymore, accountability. Children are at the critical stages in their lives when good and healthy habits need to be established. Good health undoubtedly leads to success in so many other aspects of life. That, I could spend all day offering research to back. So while I in particular support a resumption of recess, parents would need to know where that time might be taken from if the school agrees to bring it back. I urge restraint on any emotions towards this issue because the give and take part needs to first be negotiated and then officially layed out on the table.
Allison Marro November 28, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I had a similar incident happen to me a few years ago. My Kindergardener was attending his 3rd day of school and was thrilled to be going to gym! BUT when he got to gym, the whole class had to "sit quietly" to practice listening. The gym teacher was teaching them a lesson in listening. Isn't that the point of going to gym? Its the first day of school and these are Kindergardeners! Let them play! I have since pulled my children out of public school as it was too frustrating for me and my kids. St. Thomas's Day School: 830 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT Open House Dec 4 & 11.
Faith Gydus November 28, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Last time I checked school is about education not playing. My son who is now in 5th grade went to Mohegan School. When my son started there that school was so upside down in my opinion. They were more concerned with cupcakes, decorating trees and other nonsense. Meanwhile my son was struggling. He could not read. He could not write and could not express any emotion. It was not until 3rd grade that anyone cared to notice. I can proudly say he is doing much better now. He made honors!!! Instead of "playing" he is getting the help he needed. The point of this is that I couldn't be happier with changes that Mohegan has made. I also have a 3rd grader there now. And he is having his best year ever he told me. He goes out for recess 4xs a week. And they do do 15 min energy bursts. I am sick of people not having the full information about Mohegan school. It's not all about recess!!!
Leah Salomoni (Editor) November 28, 2012 at 08:32 PM
"Practice listening" in gym class?? Very odd to me...
Peggy Camp November 28, 2012 at 09:41 PM
I think the information of Mohegan is pretty adequate. The children do not have recess on days that they have double specials, they do have "activity bursts" but the activity and the length of time is at the discression of the teacher. I have 4 children 17, 15, 13 and 8, so I have been around Mohegan for a VERY long time, and things have changed( and not all have been for the better). Back when my oldest children started there Mohegan was the best elementary school in town, thanks to the principal and very dedicated staff. Testing scores were amazing, and I'm happy to say that last year scores were wonderful. School is about education, but that doesn't only include academics. It also includes learning about community,about being a school family, and about giving. Decorating many of those trees over the years did that! I feel that schools have become way to absorbed with assessments and standardized testings and have forgotten that these are kids, elementary aged kids we are talking about. Let them be kids. And recess is about being a kid!! Plenty of research has been done that shows the learning benefits of having recess. So in retrospect if you are saying school is about education, then recess should be apart of it!!
Mohegan Alum November 28, 2012 at 11:00 PM
As a Mohegan alum who went on to graduate with honors from both Shelton High School and a highly respected private university, I can confidently say a 30 minute recess was not detrimental to my well being. In my experience in college and the business community, I have found that social skills are just as important as any basic maths and sciences. I cannot tell you how many peers I've seen fail or struggle due to their inability to communicate, collaborate, or command a room. While I of course believe the fundamentals are necessary to produce future contributing members of society, I strongly believe the social skills developed at a young age will carry with them far beyond anything out of a textbook. Recess is a vital part of that, where students learn to play, explore, and work together. If I was privledged enough to have a 30 minute recess 15 years ago (and make it out okay), then I believe the next batch of Moheganers should too.
Aimee Cayer November 29, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Jeff, You have some GREAT points and comments. I certainly would not want the kids to lose time from learning. This is the first time since being at Mohegan that there have been two specials a day. There is no need for these kids to have specials as often as they do. By bringing back the scheduling from last year, our children would still have the much needed classes as well as 5 days of recess.
Lisbeth Condo November 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Recess is the only time in the 6 1/2 hour school day that a child has a choice. A choice. He/she decides what they need to decompress and reboot for the rest of the day. School starts at 9:10 and our daughter has recess @ 10:15. She does not need a break an hour into her school day. She requires a break midday everyday. Ignoring a child's social and emotional needs does not mean they do not exist. Recess is mental health time not additional physical education time. The CT Department of Education state does not permit recess to count as gym time. However, they do recommend that elementary child receive 20 minutes of recess every day. There are laws in the work place to ensure that ADULTS get breaks for specific amounts of time. There are no laws to protect a child's right to the same. What I find disturbing is that there would need to be one. I am not questioning the academic quality or the competence of the staff at Mohegan School; I have offered to take vacation time to help determine a way to reinstate recess every day, midday for at least 20 minutes. the other elemntary school are able to do it so I believe Mohegan can too.
Lori McKeon November 29, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Mohegan Alum I completely agree with your comments. The elementary school environment is so short and now truly only lasts for 5 years. There is no reason why academics cannot be covered and recess be part of the every day schedule. Kids not only need to learn the academics they need social skills. In their short time in elementary school they need to learn to love school!! Learning can be fun. The school environment can be fun. I challenge any adult to sit in a classroom for over 4 hours without a true mental break. It is not a productive learning environment. If Mohegan's test scores improved last year why make the schedule change this year?
Jane Cheetham November 30, 2012 at 01:07 AM
I can't help but remember when I moved here 5 years ago that the motto at Mohegan School was "The school with a heart". The 1st paragraph of the Misson Statement is still the same..." The mission of our school is to provide a learning environment where members of the Mohegan family grow academically, socially and physically.  Let us dedicate ourselves daily to foster individual growth and happiness so that each of us may be a positive force in our society". There must be a way that the administration and parent representatives can sit down and map out a schedule that puts back the heart of Mohegan School, making it stronger and healthy for alll elementary students, academically, socially, and physically. Afterall, elementary school is the foundation that our children build their love for education and begin to make lifestyle choices. Unstructured time; hence recess, is a vital part of that development.
Katherine Rennie November 30, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Mohegan Alum- I completely agree. I graduated in the top of my class at SHS and in the top 10% at Providence College this past May. I always considered myself very smart, but guess who got a job before I did? All of my friends that were not as "book smart" & didn't have stellar grades, but were more socially connected and had better people-skills. Obviously for elemenrary school age kids, you can hardly call them social connections and people-skills, but what is important is the foundation that is laid for these skills to develop later in life.
Lori McKeon November 30, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Very well stated Jane. I agree completely.
Jennifer Pereira December 03, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Aimee: Where can I sign this petition? Jenn Pereira
Aimee Cayer December 04, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Jennifer, I have a copy at my house and there are a few other parents circulating it as well. My number is in the Mohegan handbook under plant sale and girl scout co-ordinator.

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