Prince George’s charter school to eliminate recess to shorten day

A charter school in Prince George’s County will eliminate recess, a revered part of each student’s daily routine, in an effort to shorten its academic day.

The county’s Board of Education approved the change at College Park Academy by a vote of 12-0, with one member abstaining and another absent. Frank Brewer, interim executive director of the academy, which is a middle school that has ties to the University of Maryland in College Park, said teachers suggested the move.

“It was our teachers who noted that our students were really tired by the end of the day,” Brewer said. “We had a longer day than most middle schools. Getting rid of recess was the way to shorten the day without affecting instructional time.”

The charter school’s agreement calls for a 71 / 2-hour day, which now runs from 8:25 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. School would end at 3:20 p.m. if recess is canceled, a change that requires a waiver from the county’s Board of Education.

Schools Chief Kevin Maxwell, who signed off on the waiver, asked the board to approve it as an emergency resolution Thursday, two days after the start of school.

Although it’s an idea that is often unpopular with parents and students, schools across the country have been reducing or eliminating recess as they face pressure to raise math and reading scores and other academic standards. Schools have also been scaling back other traditional parts of students’ schedule, including arts instruction and other supplemental programs.

Last year, parents in the District protested when recess at elementary schools was reduced to 15 minutes a day. After the outcry, it was increased to 20 minutes.

Principal Bernadette Ortiz-Brewster did not return calls Thursday seeking comment.

Students at College Park Academy have had recess since the school opened a year ago. According to county school regulations, middle schools are not required to offer recess, and a schools spokesman said that the county’s middle schools don’t have it. County elementary schools “should” offer recess for “no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day,” according to regulations in Prince George’s.

Several parents balked at the idea of dropping recess at College Park, which offers an early college program where all of the curriculum is online and half of the instruction is taught on computers. They said students at College Park Academy need to have some time to interact with each other.

“These kids are on the computer all day long,” said Gayatri Varma, whose son is an eighth-grader at the school. “Kids need downtime.”

Varma said that her daughter, who recently graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, did not have recess at Hyattsville Middle School but had a full period for lunch, which gave her more social time. Students at College Park Academy do not have a full period for lunch.

“They could eat and chat,” Varma said, adding that the students at College Park will not have a chance to do that.

Concerned about safety and in some cases questioning its merits, school districts across the country have over the years banned certain games during recess, including tag, or have gotten rid of playtime entirely.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has called recess a “crucial and necessary component of a child’s development,” saying students need recess to be healthy and focused in class.

“Students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively” after recess, the academy said in a policy statement, adding that “recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.”

It also said that “unstructured” recess helps children manage stress and helps lower the risk of obesity.

Alex Heitkemper, a parent whose ninth-grader now attends private school, said he didn’t think that College Park Academy’s request was unusual, but he still didn’t like it.

“Doesn’t it go against some of what Michelle Obama has been pushing?” he said. “These kids are pent up and never have the opportunity to relax. What ever happened to free time?”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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