This is a copy of a letter that I sent to our school district’s Superintendent this past week. I also published it in the Democrat and Chronicle, seen here. I felt the need to send a letter to Dr. Vargas only after first trying to plead with both the Assistant Principal and my child’s teacher that recess is too important of an activity to withhold from our children. Both of whom, sadly, did not share my views on the subject. In my conversations with them I learned that “recess” isn’t really “recess” anymore, but something else entirely, something of which I am sure I do not like. Within an hour of sending the letter I received a response from Dr. Vargas stating he’d pass my concerns to the supervisor of our Zone. That was several days ago and I haven’t heard anything since. I really feel strongly that if you don’t understand the importance of recess and physical activity, than teaching isn’t the right profession for you and please step aside. Us parents really need to band together and demand more and I ask that educators stand up for what is right as well. Do better, demand better; I implore you. Please feel free to share and reprint and email and mail to all the educators and decision makers in your life and in your school districts. I want to change this not only for my children, but for all the tiny bodies that are stuck sitting in desks all day.
Dr. Bolgen Vargas
Rochester City School District
Dear Dr. Vargas:
I am a mother of 3 young children, two of which attend RCSD School, [location redacted]. My daughter (5 yrs.) is in first grade and my son (7yrs.) is in third. I have recently been very frustrated and disappointed by our school’s lack of ability to recognize the importance of a traditional “recess,” which includes physical activity, as well as the reality of many teachers using the approach of with-holding this vital form of physical movement as a disciplinary tactic. When I was a child, one of my greatest memories was recess time. I remember jumping, playing, running, climbing with friends, coloring with chalk, playing kickball and swinging on the tire swing until I was too dizzy to walk. This is one of the most important activities in the world to elementary school aged children, and as well to me as their parent and advocate.
On Friday I called to speak with our Assistant Principal, [name redacted], and was informed that recess is no longer defined by going outside nor does it necessarily mean physical activity. I was told that recess is defined “as a break from the Common Core Curriculum.” So things like doing a sheet of math problems at the child’s desk, reading or flash cards is an acceptable form of “recess” as long as it isn’t specifically Common Core. Now, I’m not sure if most children at 5 and 7 understand the difference between a sheet of “Recess math problems” and a sheet of “Common Core math problems,” but I at 32 am not so sure I understand the differentiation. I am honestly quite perplexed and disturbed by this. I understand that our district needs to work on getting on track with the Common Core Curriculum and I am aware of the crisis-state our teachers feel at the hands of NYS, but we can not drive forward at any cost ignoring the important physical needs of our children.
Sometimes my kids do go outside, but many days they do not. I view teachers taking away recess akin to any other physical punishment. It’s like strapping a kid to a chair and saying, no you don’t deserve to give your body what it physically needs. Physical activity is as important as healthy air and food. To me physical movement is a basic human “right” that shouldn’t be taken away, not a reward to be earned depending on any random factor the teacher decides for that day. Sometimes it’s as a result of not turning in homework, sometimes it’s because there’s “no time,” and very often is taken away as punishment for any number of things that the children do during the day.
There has been extensive research done that shows the many benefits of having a “recess” that includes physical activity, specifically including large-motor play. Our children’s gross-motor skills do continue to develop well into their adolescence. Running, jumping and climbing are vital to their development. As frivolous as climbing on outdoor equipment sounds, it’s actually aiding in developing their tiny little bodies. This development is as crucial as teaching kids to walk, teaching them to hold a pencil properly in their hands and as important as teaching them healthy eating habits, movement and behavior. Kids also have a human need to learn about how to interact with others socially, and recess fulfills that need as well as gives them a “breather” and lets them recharge their brains and so much more. Outside play gives kids something that card games and coloring and playing iPads can’t give them. And perhaps if they had a chance to move their bodies freely during the day, they wouldn’t be so wiggly while walking in the hallway and sitting at their desks?
I often am required to sit at a desk and work in front of a computer for long periods of time myself. There are times throughout the day that I need to get up and walk around, stretch my back and my arms and move my head from side to side. Sometimes you need to shut your mind off from academics in order to be able to use the time you do have to sit at a desk more efficiently. There has also been extensive research about the need to do this for people of all ages and many offices allow their employees a chance to exercise during the day, as constant desk work isn’t very efficient without an opportunity for people to recharge their minds and bodies. Physical activity also produces natural dopamine, which is known to improve memory, brain function, motor control, reduces the effects of challenges with children such as ADHD, as well as helps the immune system, which may also aid in the known crisis our district has with truancy. Physical activity not only does all that, but it helps children’s vestibular system mature, which is responsible for our sense of balance. Improving balance will help kids be able to sit at their desks longer and write more legibly. It also helps connect the left side of the brain with the right, which is vital to learning how to read and write; which unfortunately only 5% of our district’s students have been deemed to be proficient in. If we really want to achieve better scores on the Common Core, then recess only helps, not hinders the process.
This is all not to mention that being in the RCSD, we live in an impoverished area where there are many kids who live in the city in situations that are neither great nor safe outdoors at home. It is a fact that children in poverty need specific attention when it comes to meeting social and physical needs, possibly even more so than kids who reside in affluent areas that may get a daily chance to meet those needs at home. We’ve had dozens of shootings and stabbings in the city just only in the last month alone, specifically on the West Side of Rochester, which is well within our North-West “zone” where my children’s School resides. I find it sad when teachers in the city in particular take away the short time that kids have a safe place to run free and play outside and interact socially in a healthy environment when some children might never get that after they leave the school in the evening. Many of the recent shootings we’ve had over the past month are specifically “daytime shootings,” making it scary for parents to allow their kids outside. Home life and area wide crime is certainly something to consider when doling out punishments in an RCSD school.
As I feel very strongly about how my children develop, and I am sure you do too Dr. Vargas, I plead with you to detail the importance of movement to the district’s administration, teachers and staff and consider making changes district-wide in RCSD barring teachers from punishing our children physically for mistakes they make either academically or behaviorally. Of course if there are safety issues, I understand the use of taking away recess as punishment, but otherwise, recess should be an every day activity. I have also encountered many other parents this year as well as in past years with the same opinion as mine, as well as a handful of staff at the school. I am not alone and it’s an important topic that needs your attention.
Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you and discussing my findings at our school’s upcoming PTO meeting.