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Longer school day — do it right

Updated: January 16, 2012 10:22AM

A Sun-Times story on Dec. 13 had this headline: “Is daily recess a ‘human right’ for school kids?” I believe it is. Currently, children in some Chicago Public Schools enter their elementary classrooms in the morning and, except for a brief 20-minute lunch break, remain seated in the same room for the entire day. Not only does this make for a less than exciting day for students, it negatively affects their health, classroom behavior, and academic achievement.

As part of the Chicago VIVA Project, I just helped write the report outlining the recommendations of CPS teachers for how classroom time can best be used to improve student learning. Our report recommends increasing instructional time for math, language arts, science, and social studies, the core academic classes offered in elementary schools. But to truly maximize learning in these areas, we also recommend increasing time in ancillary classes. Research shows that art, music, library and P.E. show great promise for increasing academic achievement, while providing students with a fun, enriching school experience.

As a part of a 7.5 hour elementary school day, we recommend that students receive:

† Daily 20-minute recess period,

† 180 minutes per week of physical education instruction,

† 90 minutes per week of art instruction,

† 90 minutes per week of music instruction.

† 90 minutes per week of library or technology instruction.

These recommendations, if implemented, stand to have a lasting positive impact on a significant portion of Chicago’s population. It is well known that regular exercise helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Studies also show that it reduces stress and increases students’ ability to pay attention.

But how much is necessary? The USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend 60 minutes of exercise per day for children and adolescents. The VIVA Teachers proposal would give Chicago’s students an average of 36 minutes of structured physical education per day, along with 20 minutes of free play at recess. This more than doubles the amount of exercise students currently receive.

Arts education, including music, is known to improve math scores. Recent research has also found that these areas of study actually stimulate cognitive growth and help students learn empathy and caring. Art and music improve motivation, providing a fun outlet for creative expression.

The length of the 2012-2013 school day hasn’t been chiseled in stone yet. But any discussion of a longer day should include planning how the time should best be spent. I hope that CPS will consider implementing the VIVA team’s recommendations, in an effort to improve learning and make a CPS school day something to look forward to for every student, in every school.

Kori Milroy, Dunning

Veterans will need jobs

Though it is wonderful that our troops will be coming home, has anyone given any thought to the fact that it will be very difficult to find employment? Maybe some plan could be devised to help these men and women who risked their lives for our freedom.

Sue Belmonte, Mount Prospect

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