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Lowell Teachers and Parents Win Guaranteed Recess for Elementary and Middle School Students

Growing Statewide Momentum for Recess Requirements As Teachers and Parents Push Back Against Overreliance on Testing

Elementary and middle school students in Lowell will be guaranteed recess after a successful campaign by teachers from the United Teachers of Lowell and parents, students, and community members from the Lowell Education Justice Alliance.

A citywide recess policy adopted by the Lowell School Committee in May will require elementary schools to have a minimum 20-minute daily recess and require middle schools to have a minimum 15-minute daily recess. Elementary and middle schools will also have 5-minute activity breaks in the morning and afternoon, with physical activities including yoga, stretching and dance.  In addition, LPS Administration will create a Task Force comprised of parents, teachers, and administrators to explore additional considerations relative to recess moving forward. The Task Force will be created in June 2018 and schedule meetings during the 2018-19 school year to study the topic further.

“Recess is an important part of a child’s social and emotional development that is getting squeezed out of our schools by the over-reliance on high-stakes testing and hours of repetitive test preparation,” said Paul Georges, President of the United Teachers of Lowell. “Just 20 or 25 minutes of recess provides kids with so many benefits: improved academic performance; exercise; and a critical opportunity to develop skills like sharing, problem solving, and working well with others. Our victory here shows how educators and parents working together have the power to improve school experiences for our kids.”

In the 2017-18 school year, only six of the district's more than two dozen schools provided 20 minutes or more for recess, according to the Lowell Sun. The S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School offered 10 minutes, the Butler Middle School offered 15 minutes, and the Henry J. Robinson Middle School offered no recess at all, according to the paper.

“[Children] have endless amounts of energy and need that release,” said Ashley Pizzuti, whose daughter attends the S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, to the Lowell School Committee in March. “[Recess] allows them to learn in an environment that has no structure, having that space and freedom to learn what they need to do to be a human in society.”

The United Teachers of Lowell and the Lowell Education Justice Alliance led the campaign for an equitable district-wide K-8 recess policy. They developed recess policy guidelines and a research brief that outline important components of any policy adopted by the Lowell Public Schools. The organizations then organized and packed the house at School Committee meetings in March and April and won a commitment to have the district-wide recess policy implemented by September 2018.

"Losing recess time is profound," said Mickie Dumont, a retired Lowell Public Schools teacher, a grandparent of four Lowell students and a member of the Lowell Education Justice Alliance at the March Lowell School Committee meeting. “I urge this committee to push back against multiple state and federal mandates crushing our students.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that recess makes children more attentive and more productive in the classroom, and that “through play at recess, children learn valuable communication skills, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem solving as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.” The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that students receive at least 20 minutes of unstructured recess time per day.

Momentum for recess is growing across the state and action is taking place on the state level as well. Last week, the State Senate passed a budget amendment that would require that all school districts in the state provide 20 minutes of "free play" recess per day to students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“The research is clear. Children need recess,” said State Senator Michael Rush, who sponsored the amendment. “It benefits every aspect of childhood development - physical development of course, but also social, emotional and intellectual development as well.”

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