Leon County school children join argument for more recess
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Elementary students Ashley and Roland Templing strolled to the podium, looking like most little children would in front of a room filled of mostly strangers.
They weren’t shy about stating their case in a public appeal for school recess, though.
“Recess is fun,” Ashley told members of the Leon County School Board at a recent meeting. “I’m here to ask you to give us more recess. It gives us time to play with our friends and gives us exercise.”
At least 1.3 million Florida kindergarten and elementary school children could actually get 20 minutes of recess every day if a bill headed to the Florida House could get through. The Senate unanimously passed the bill, but now students, parents and teachers who are in favor of making recess mandatory throughout the state must wait.
Meanwhile, the pro and con arguments go on. In part, some teachers are contending that recess takes away time that students should spend preparing themselves for mandatory tests.
Central to the argument is state statutes that allow recess at the teachers’ discretion. The bill in the House would make recess mandatory.
Rocky Hanna, Leon County’s superintendent of schools, is a staunch supporter of the bill to mandate recess.
“We are more than test scores,” Hanna said. “Our kids are more than data points and they have to have that physical activity. We are going to send that message down to our schools so that they can sense we are not about protecting the all-mighty school grades and test scores.
“We need to let kids be kids. The purpose of an education is to educate better citizens; not better test takers. There is a lot more to it than that.”
However, it doesn’t appear that all Leon County teachers are on board, based on statements given the board by students who showed up two weeks ago. They explained that a few teachers make demands that they complete classroom work in order to get recess.
Oddly, a year ago the House passed the recess bill with the Senate refusing to do so. This time the tables have been turned with House education policy chairman Michael Bileca (Rep. Miami) in opposition to the recess mandate.
But there shouldn’t be any argument because of the benefits for students, said Scott Mazor, a representative of Leon County Classroom Teachers Association.
“We have gone for the output of A’s and B’s rather than creating a nurturing environment for our students,” he said. “If you create a nurturing environment the output will happen. So, part of that nurturing environment is making sure we understand how brains develop and what is necessary. Movement is necessary.”
Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Society of Health and Physical Educators have come down on the side of favoring recess. Mark Liles, a fitness instructor in Tallahassee, said there shouldn’t be any argument over recess because of its health benefits.
“It’s very important,” Liles said. “When you look good, you feel good and you do better. Exercise is very important, especially in a younger child’s life.”
Liles went on to say that in a generation that spends a lot of time on their wireless devices, children have become less active in recent years. He also contends that some schools no longer require physical education, complicating the health issue.
Another concern by those who oppose recess is whether the period should be structured and supervised. Such an argument has no basis, Liles said.
“That’s where a lot of people misunderstand,” Liles said. “If you are just running around like back in the day when we played tag, we didn’t know that was exercise. Most time when kids are in recess they are running around and things like that.”