Come on, admit it. I don’t care how brilliant you were as a student, recess was the best. You’re free from everything. I know it’s only about 15 minutes, but you’re free. At least that’s the way it used to be. But say hello to recess in 2010 and the recess coach.
While you’ve probably never heard the term, 22 schools in Massachusetts now have recess coaches. The schools contract with a national non-profit group, Playworks, which was created, in part, because of some of the discipline issues on the playground. The coaches come out of the Americorps program, and have completed background checks. Coach Tes Siarnacki works at the Trotter School in Dorchester. “The reason it’s so beneficial, I think here especially, is that this is where they learn the things that they need for life and you know they don’t learn that on the weekends. A lot of kids don’t go outside and I think part of that, it’s not as safe in these neighborhoods,” Siarnacki says.
Bingo, says author and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Susan Linn. “We’ve created a society that is systematically depriving children of the time, space, silence, and inspiration for creative play. Play has been drummed out of school. Children are spending seven and a half hours in front of screens,” Linn says. Because of that, she says, kids have no idea how to play. So at the very least, she says recess coaches can help with that. “The idea of having adults facilitate children’s play, I think at this point in society, it’s probably a pretty good idea,” Linn says. But there are plenty of people who say no way. “I’m also concerned that the free play aspect of recess is taken away, and that having kids’ imaginations and um, that to be taken away by having more structure,” says Suzanne Francis of Holbrook. The criticism is simple. Structured play diminishes creativity. But spend a little time during a coached recess and you may change your mind. “I can see that point of view, but I think I present games for them, they can choose to play or not to play. I’m fine if they don’t want to play I never put pressure on them to play and for the most part, they see the games they see that we are having a good time,” says Rebecca Pazo, recess coach at the Amigos School in Cambridge.
To qualify for the program, at least half the school’s students have to have free or reduced lunch. It costs $55,000 a year to run the program in a school, the school has to come up with $23,500 of that money. Some schools add it in their budgets, others get the money from grants and fundraising. It is money well spent according to this principal, “I would love for them to just come and see the program in action, that the children are not being overly supervised, if you have the time to watch you’ll see the children who still choose to walk and talk with their friends and have imaginative play but that there are also opportunities for children to learn new games,” says Maireade Nolan, Principal of the Trotter school.
Ok, now to the real experts, the kids. “It’s like fun because if we didn’t have recess, we would just be like, we couldn’t work, like concentrate, and it just makes us happy,” says Amigos school student, Sanji Harrison. “If we didn’t have a coach, everybody would be fighting and someone would get hurt. Like she supports us, and makes sure no one gets hurt,” Amigos school student, Karla Goss says. That’s another good point, we have to talk about bullying here, it happens during recess too, and to have an adult out there who’s involving the kids in activity makes a difference. “Last year we spent an exorbitant amount of time just solving problems and breaking up fights and disagreements. And now our students are actually playing together and socializing together in a peaceful, kind and respective matter, so it’s really been a transformation,” says Romaine Mills-Teque, assistant principal at the Trotter School. “Big difference, big difference, I mean, it’s first of all feels much more organized, and somewhat structured, but also really more playful and less competitive,” says Deborah Sercombe, principal at the Amigos School. So while recess may not look like the break you had in school, when you spend a little time, you see, it’s just good, old-fashioned, kids being kids, with a little help from their coach.