Syracuse Elementary Schools Nix Recess In Favor Of More Instructional Time

BILOXI, MS - SEPTEMBER 20:  Students at Nativity Blessed Birgin Mary Catholic school play a game of volleyball in a cleared p
BILOXI, MS - SEPTEMBER 20: Students at Nativity Blessed Birgin Mary Catholic school play a game of volleyball in a cleared parking lot on U.S. 90 September 20, 2005 in Biloxi, Mississippi. Students returned to the school on September 19, 2005. (Photo by Marianne Todd/Getty Images)

For Syracuse’s elementary school students, recess will no longer be part of the daily agenda, as the district’s master schedule for the new year mandates every minute of their day be spent on instruction, save for a 30-minute lunch break, the Post-Standard reports.

Teachers will have the option of offering recess if they so choose, but at the expense of English language arts and math instructional time.

“That’s a choice I hope every teacher considers very carefully,” district Chief Academic Officer Laura Kelley told the Post-Standard, adding that focusing on instruction is more essential than allocating time for recess, given that Syracuse’s student achievement ranks among the lowest in the state.

The district reportedly implemented the master schedule in an effort to ensure teachers satisfy new state requirements that dictate the number of minutes they spend teaching core subjects. The requirements are part of the state’s new teacher accountability rules.

Michael Gilbert, a school psychologist at Meachem Elementary in Syracuse, told the Post-Standard he sees the demise of recess as indicative of a larger issue -- an over-reliance on testing and student achievement that has hindered students’ opportunities for social and emotional learning.

Meachem had a 15-minute recess last year but is without one this year due to the new master schedule.

Todd Doss, a father of two Meachem students and vice president of the school parent-teacher group, says recess should be reinstated, as many kids cannot play outside after school due to the streets being dangerous, or working parents not being home to supervise.

The Parent Teacher Organization is set to meet about the issue Tuesday evening, WSYR reports.

In May, the Illinois Senate passed a bill mandating at least 20 minutes of daily recess for children in kindergarten through fifth grade statewide — and outdoors, weather permitting. The bill includes a provision that would allow school boards to extend the requirement for students in grades 6 through 8, and also forbids schools from withholding recess as a disciplinary action.

“Our children deserve a chance to play and relax during the school day. Learning to make friends and use your imagination is every bit as important as learning multiplication and grammar,” said Democratic state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who introduced the bill.

Also in May, a coalition of health advocacy groups urged the Department of Education to put more resources into school-based efforts to improve health and combat obesity among youth.

"When you do things well, children are successful," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but when they don't get a chance to be active or are hungry "bad things happen to them."

A study conducted earlier this year also found that teachers reported less bullying and more readiness for classes among students who engaged in recess.

Still, previous reports indicate low-income, urban populations are less likely to implement daily recess, focusing instead on standardized test results in an effort to boost student achievement, much like in Syracuse.