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Editorial: Bring back recess to help students

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Sometimes the headline is the editorial.

“Bring back recess” was the front-page headline on a Sun-Times story last week about a push by some parents, some teachers and even the White House to get Chicago Public School kids out on the playground for a while each school day.

We could not agree more.

We have, in fact, been calling for bringing back recess for three years now, ideally as part of a larger effort to meet the social and emotional needs of children, which common sense and a wealth of research say leads to more successful schools.

Kids who can climb monkey bars, run around playing tag and generally blow off a little steam are likely to do better academically and be better behaved in the classroom.

Recess is a terrific way for children to learn to play fair and solve problems, skills most of us adults are still working on, and recess for kids in highly dangerous neighborhoods may be their only opportunity to get out and play. Once they get home, their parents keep them safely inside.

But let’s bring back recess the right way, which means:

† Do so in a way that does not cut into time devoted to classroom instruction. The Chicago Public Schools already have one of the shortest school days of any major school system.

† Think of a return to recess as a first step in creating a generally more enriched school experience for children, with not only more instruction in core subjects such as math, reading and science, but also in subjects that can’t be measured on a standardized test, such as art and music.

Chicago schools did away with recess in the late 1970s, as most public schools adopted a “closed campus” policy after the Chicago Teachers Union won that option in its 1973 contract.

Schools eliminated a 10-minute morning recess, a 10-minute afternoon recess and a lengthy student lunch period. Lunch for teachers then was pushed to the end of the day, allowing them to leave early if they wanted.

But the self-interest of teachers was hardly the only reason for the move to closed campuses. Principals of schools in more dangerous neighborhoods had legitimate worries that kids who went home during the longer lunch break would never come back or — worse — would run into trouble on the street.

To her credit, CTU President Karen Lewis said she favors elementary school teachers moving their lunch from the end of the day to the middle, when kids could run out the door for recess, a change that would extend the school day for kids by 45 minutes.

Lewis says the change, according to the union’s contract, would require a vote of approval by the teachers at each school.

CPS officials disagree, saying a review committee made up of the principal and parent and teacher representatives must decide.

Our hope is that it doesn’t much matter whose decision it is because everyone will agree: It’s time to bring back recess.

First lady Michelle Obama is pushing for recess, saying it’s a way for kids to stay fit. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supported recess when he ran Chicago’s public school system. A parent group, Raise Your Hand, is pushing the change. And now Lewis is on board.

The CTU has been hammered by critics who see the union as an obstacle to substantial school reform. But by enthusiastically supporting this one obviously smart change, the teachers would be sending a message that they, like the rest of us, put children first.

It’s time to bring back recess.

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