No more recess: Middle school principal tags students with more class time

Deborah Straszheim

Fields Memorial School wants to squeeze more learning into the school day. So the principal has decided to cancel recess in the upper grades.

That has parents such as Brigitte Jurczyk wondering how this could possibly help.

“I was basically appalled that they think that 20 minutes is going to raise their (test) scores,” Jurczyk said. “That is not going to happen. If anything, I think they are going to see the opposite of that.”

Maureen McLaughlin Scott, superintendent and principal in Bozrah, sent a letter to parents Aug. 30 telling them recess had been cut for students in grades five through eight.

She was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but in her letter, McLaughlin Scott said students need more time in class to meet minimum state requirements for classroom hours and to improve their performance on the Connecticut Mastery Test.

McLaughlin Scott is a new superintendent in Bozrah; she started in July.

Department of Education Spokesman Tom Murphy said middle school children rarely have recess; Bozrah is the exception. Fifth grade is a gray area, he said. Connecticut requires schools to offer children in kindergarten through grade five at least 20 minutes for lunch and a period of physical exercise.

It leaves specifics up to the local district, he said.

“It could be recess, but it could also be students standing in their classroom doing jumping jacks,” he said.

Murphy said districts sometimes cut breaks, such as recess, to add time for learning, without adding staff costs by extending the school day. The state requires 900 hours of yearly classroom instruction. Bozrah had 951 during the 2005-06 school year, less than the state average of 972, he said.

David Larsen, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said 20 minutes of recess adds up to a lot of classroom time for children.

“They can play after school,” he said.

Jurczyk said a break is important. She said her son, Stone, does well in school. But he needs an outlet.

“Major corporations are giving break times to adults to get them to be more productive, and we’re doing this to children?” she said.

Stone, 9, plays soccer, baseball and rides a mountain bike.

“He’ll mow the lawn before he’ll sit there and play video games,” Jurczyk said. “He’s got a ton of energy and it’s a constant.”

Stone said his classmates get stir crazy when they stay in all day.

“I think everyone will just do worse in class without recess because we get to go out and run and it helps us,” he said.

Jacqueline Kremer, co-chairwoman of the Fields Memorial School Parent Teacher Organization, said children use recess to problem solve and learn valuable lessons, such as how to take turns.

“My son is a very conscientious student, so he’s very intense and works hard,” Kremer said. “He needs that break to de-stress and relax. That’s an important part of his day.”

Board of Education member George Bagge said the superintendent told the board in August she was changing the schedule. He said he supported her decision, but would compromise if people objected to it.

“If somebody comes in and says, ‘I’m concerned’, we’ll find some common ground,” he said.

Reach Deborah Straszheim of the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin at dstraszheim@norwichbulletin.com.