A serious theoretical debate about recess in Chicago’s public schools

Recess has become something of an endangered species at many public schools around the country and here in Chicago.

And now, armed with a growing scientific consensus that saysrecess helps children learn, behave and be healthy, parents, educators and, potentially, the Illinois legislature are engaged in a new debate: how to bring it back.

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

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

Instead, Occomy says the task force should focus on defining research in aneffort to prevent schools from cutting recess because of a lackof resources and time in the school day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you go across the board, you will havea consensus that children need a healthy school environment which includesphysical education and recess.”

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