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Fighting for Recess: One Parent's Story

Publication Date: 2008-04-24

"Thank you, Mrs. Walton for getting us recess," summarizes the story of one parent's determination.

Another parent summarized the problem with this statement: "I think prisoners basically have a little bit more social interaction than our children."

NOTE: The recess bill may come up for vote as early as May. The chair of the Asembly Education Committee is Joseph Cryan:
985 Stuyvesant Ave.
Union, NJ 07083

The chair of the Senate Education Committee is Shirley Turner
1440 Pennington Rd.
1st Floor
Trenton, NJ 08618


Believe it or not, it all started for me when my son's school playground was deemed unsafe by the state. Due to budget restraints, the Board of Education could not contribute to the replacement of the playground. Parents met to come up with fund-raising ideas. At the meeting, one of the parents stood up and said "what good is replacing a playground if the children never get outside to use it?" I was completely appalled by this and started to investigate. As it turned out, the parent was completely correct in her statement.

I started a petition last April and in one week I had collected over 300 signatures, without a ton of effort. I then approached our BOE along with several other parents in my district. They did not make us any promises. It was not until I was contacted by a newspaper reporter for our biggest paper and landed a front page article last summer that the BOE showed any interest in the issue.

From there, my phone was ringing off the wall from parents voicing very similar concerns. It occurred to me that we really needed to take it a step further and that's when Assemblyman Joseph Malone met with us and drafted the current bill.

It only takes one person to begin the movement. I never dreamed that it would have turned into something like this. I am very proud to say that I initiated this! It does consume me, but I have no regrets. I had a little girl come up to me in church and say "thank you, Mrs. Walton for getting us recess" That makes it all worth it! I started out with a group of about 10 and now I have several big organizations supporting the bills. I am most fortunate to have connected with so many people. If I could do this, anyone can!

Kids Need Unstructured Time
by Michelle Gladden
Asbury Park Press
Aug. 18. 2007

HOWELL ΓΆ€" Marie Walton is a mother on a mission.

The lifelong township resident wants to see a daily 20-minute recess become policy for the school district's 10 elementary schools.

"Whatever happened to recess?" the 36-year-old mother of two asked. "Recess is an opportunity for children to make up their own rules. There are cognitive, emotional, social and physical benefits."

Walton, who attended public schools here, said she remembers going outside every day for recess. She was inspired to launch her fight when her sons, ages 7 and 10, revealed they did not consistently get unstructured downtime during their six-hour-and-15-minute school day.

"I have been told by my children that recess is often taken away due to noise levels
or some other classroom situations," said Walton, of Rochelle Avenue, in a written
statement to the Board of Education in June. "Recess should never be used as a form of punishment ΓΆ€" it is a crucial part of our children's development. It is a time to engage in unstructured play, independently learn, respect other people, share and problem solve on their own."

Currently, each of the district's elementary schools issue their own policy on recess, school officials said.

"We do have procedures in place for school recess, but we don't have a policy," said Elizabeth O'Connell, a school board member and chairwoman of
the board's Policy Committee. "We are taking a look at (Walton's request) to make a policy consistent between all the schools."

Walton, who works part-time for a local oral surgeon taking care of his billing and insurance, stressed to the Asbury Park Press that the children need consistency when it comes to downtime during the school day and that gym class is not sufficient because it is structured and part of the curriculum.

Other parents agree. Within one week of circulating a petition in support of her cause, Walton said she received 300 signatures from parents throughout the district.

John Mazza, who has three children in the district, was one of the signers.

"Children are given 25 minutes for lunch, with the last five minutes for a time of
silence to ready them to return to class. That is not enough," said Mazza, 44, of Spring Hill Drive.

"They need some type of activity outside the classroom to let them regulate themselves and resolve their own conflicts and even withdraw from the group if they want," added Mazza, a manager for Northwest airlines. "They need to basically de-stress."

Walton has spent the past two years researching the benefits and issues surrounding recess being cut from the school day and has reached out to not
only local officials but also to state officials and national organizations.

"This is a nationwide problem," Walton said. "Currently, there are only four states in the country that have a mandated policy."

Guidelines for recess put in place
BY Toynett Hall
Asbury Park Press
Oct. 11, 2007

HOWELL - In an effort to address the inconsistencies associated with the way recess has been handled in Howell public schools, the Board of Education has established guidelines for all schools to follow.

The guidelines are not policy or a mandate. Instead, they are the board's way of examining whether recess can successfully be reintegrated back into the school day.

Recently, a committee was formed to look into the issue of how recess was being handled after a parent complained that it was not being instituted fairly across the district.

When it formed, the committee said, "The Howell Township School District parents and community members are committed to creating a healthy environment in which students can develop academically, emotionally and physically. We believe healthy children make better students. To that end we believe that daily recess provides our students with exercise, socialization and a needed break from their academically challenging school day. Having a balanced school day will help our children set goals and achieve their dreams."

The criteria set for unstructured play time are the following: recess must be a minimum of 20 minutes of engaged daily play; it must be as close to midday as possible; children should go outside with age appropriate peers; depending on the weather, if the temperature is 35 degrees or higher the children should go outside; recess will not be used as a reward or punishment; students will not be denied recess for more than five minutes for behavioral issues, and if there was a behavioral issue parents would be notified when recess is denied; students will not be denied recess for inability to complete assignments; recess will be granted in addition to the students' regular physical education class.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Susan Vonsover, these guidelines are a "compromise for the parents and everyone on that committee. This is something we will try. It is absolutely a necessity for children to get outside and have some free time in their very busy school day."
The committee members will evaluate the effectiveness of the guidelines when they reconvene in the spring.

Vonsover said any issues that may arise from now up until that time will be documented by building principals and brought before the committee as a record of issues that were encountered.
Due to the guidelines not being policy or a mandate, teachers will continue to take the children outside at their discretion. However, they are encouraged to do it around midday.
Board member Patricia Blood said teachers should not be locked into a specific time for recess. Blood said she believes that as the school day progresses teachers will choose the most optimal time to go out.

"This will need some time to evolve," she said.
Marie Walton, a parent and advocate for recess, said ultimately she would like to see the guidelines become a mandate.

The guidelines for recess were presented to building principals on Sept. 21. The principals were encouraged to discuss the issue at back to school nights and to work with their PTA/PTO to bring daily recess back to the schools.

Task force could study issue of recess in school
By Toyneett Hall
Asbury Park Press
Nov. 29, 2007

A group of concerned parents met with state Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Ocean, Monmouth, Burlington, Mercer) in his office in Jackson on Nov. 21 to discuss the idea of making student recess mandatory in all New Jersey school districts.

During the meeting Malone presented the parents with a proposed bill that would establish a task force to examine the issue of school recess.
After listening to the parents state that their children do not receive recess on a consistent basis in conjunction with their lunch period, Malone said he would try to sell the issue to his fellow legislators.

"When this issue came up I just never thought they (schools) were not allowing kids to have some type of recess usually in conjunction with lunch. I am trying to give you all the opportunity to absolutely sell your issue to legislators who are as unaware of it as I was three years ago," said Malone, himself an educator.

He advised the parents that in order to sell the issue they would have to raise the level of awareness.

"You've got to convince 41 people in the Assembly and 21 people in the Senate, and probably 75 of them right now could not care less about the issue," Malone said. "On a scale from one to 10 it's not even a one. All I am asking you to do is go through a process where you bring this issue up to a five or six on their radar. And you do that by networking and having a consensus group get together."

Malone asked the parents to review the bill he said he would propose in the Legislature.
The bill would establish a task force on public school student recess. It states that "it will be the duty of the task force to examine current data, research, programs, and initiatives related to the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual benefits achieved by young students as a result of participation in school recess; identify effective strategies for schools that promote lifelong health and prepare children and youth for physically active lifestyles; examine the extent to which recess is provided to students in school districts across the state of New Jersey; and develop recommendations on the advisability of mandating daily recess in all school districts."

The task force would issue a report on its findings to the governor and the Legislature.
Leslie Kinsella, of Middletown, blamed the lack of recess in some New Jersey schools on the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"Since No Child Left Behind (was signed into law), our teachers and our schools are under pressure to solely increase test scores. A state mandated recess would illustrate the social, health and academic importance of recess and give our schools and teachers freedom to bring back recess," Kinsella said.

Howell parent John Mazza shared Kinsella's sentiments and described the rigidity of his children's lunch period when he said, "In our schools our children go to lunch, they have to sit there in basic silence while they are eating their lunch, at assigned spots, at assigned tables, in silence. And the last five minutes of lunch they are cleaning up and then they go back to class. I think prisoners basically have a little bit more social interaction than our children."

Malone listened attentively and advised the parents to get ready for a fight. He said they will face opposition from all directions.
"Be ready to do battle. I want you to review the bill. Let me know if there are any changes you want to make and I will make them," the assemblyman said.

Malone is planning to pre-file the proposed bill for the next legislative session which will begin in January.

"Once that happens it will get assigned to the Education Committee. I will push the leadership in the Assembly," he said.

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