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Jefferson Cuts Recess from Day, Joining Most Elementary Schools

Jefferson principal says there is no longer enough time in the day for breaks for first- and second-graders, but teachers think that time ought to be made for the benefit of the kids.

Wauwatosa's will no longer hold morning or afternoon recesses for first- and second-grade students as of opening day Tuesday, according to school staff.

The reason given, according to those sources, was simply a lack of time in the day left for recess, between mandatory instructional hours and mandatory testing.

There already was no recess for kindergarten or for grades 3 and up.

Stephanie Jajtner, principal of Jefferson Elementary, confirmed Wednesday that mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks for those primary-grade students had been ended.

Students will continue to have a 20- or 25-minute recess either before or after lunch. Jajtner said that Jefferson provides for 20 minutes of recess, a five-minute transition, and 20 minutes for lunch during a 45-minute period.

Wauwatosa School Superintendent Phil Ertl said Thursday that he had no part in the decision or had any discussions about it and said that Jajtner had the latitude as a principal to do so on her own.

Jefferson teachers, parents said to be displeased

"I can only give you the facts I know," said Jeff Hansher, president of the Wauwatosa Education Association and a Jefferson fifth-grade teacher. "Teachers were not involved in the decision-making," Hansher said. "It was not discussed with them. And I know that some parents are unhappy, and some teachers are unhappy."

Hansher also said that the decision had come from the district adminstration offices, but Ertl repeated that was not the case. He said that Jajtner told him that she had announced it as her decision at a Jefferson staff meeting.

Principal Jajtner said that only some of the district's elementary schools were still holding mid-session recesses going into this year, with Jefferson being one of them.

"We had a 15-minute morning recess and an occasional afternoon one," Jajtner said. "Most of the buildings had already stopped having either."

Jajtner, in only her second year as a principal, said she did not know the exact number of schools that were and were not still having recess last year, or planning to this year.

Jajtner said the reason for the elimination of the recess periods required instructional hours and required testing time had consumed the schoolday.

What is best for the child?

Jajtner downplayed the change at Jefferson, saying that, especially in the winter, the quick out-and-in recess sessions were not that productive of play time.

"With snow pants going on and coming off, it really isn't much of a break," Jajtner said.

But one veteran teacher, who said she did not wish to be identified for fear of retaliation for publicly challenging an administration decision, said that any break is a good and needed one for 6- and 7-year-olds during a 3½-hour morning session.

"Where is the research that supports the notion that eliminating recess time is developmentally appropriate, or that it allows more productive learning?" the teacher asked.

"At a time when as many as one-third of our students in elementary schools have some kind of learning difference – and with the rise in ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorders) and behavioral/emotional issues – shouldn’t a 15-minute break in a 3½-hour learning block be considered crucial for productive learning?

"If adults require breaks in order to refocus, shouldn't we consider it even more important for 6- and 7-year-olds?"

The teacher also asserted that other faculty and those parents who were aware of the change were dismayed.

The teacher referenced more than a billion and a half online search hits for "the importance of play" and provided links to two YouTube videos on the subject.

"The question I would ask is, 'Is it best practice?' And I don't think so. It's not in the best interest of the child. It is detrimental to the child."

Recess time not required by state

According to Beverly J. Kniess of the Content and Learning Team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the state does not mandate any recess time in the school day.

Administrative rules do state that 1,050 hours of instruction must be provided for children in first through sixth grades, and stipulates that no more than 30 minutes of recess daily may be counted as instructional time.

Given that, schools could keep or add recess time but only by lengthening the school day.

A study published last year by two University of Illinois-Chicago researchers found that about 30 percent of schools offer less than 20 minutes of recess per day, and more than 40 states had no recess requirement.

KAY KRISTIN August 30, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Why is there no time for recess for only 1st and 2nd graders...and there presumably IS time for 3rd graders and up?? Not much sense there....
Jim Price August 30, 2012 at 10:33 PM
No, there already was no recess for kindergarten or for grades 3 and up. Only 1st and 2nd graders still had it. Sorry, I will add that to the story.
jbw August 30, 2012 at 11:24 PM
So they still have 20 minutes of recess during the day, but they used to have a second or third recess break? I'd never heard of that practice. If they don't physically have the time in the school day for it under current requirements then the objectors are sayng they want to lengthen the school day, yes? I imagine that could interfere with after school activities. Sounds like opening a can of worms either way. I remember about 30 years ago we just had that one break following lunch. A lot of kids would wait in line at lunch to get the cafeteria food for 10 minutes, then have 10 minutes to eat a full meal before going outside. I'd always pack a lunch, but I was a slow eater myself, so I'd take just a small snack and be hungry through the afternoon. I'd rather have had the time to eat a meal, since we did plenty of playing outside of school (when we didn't have 8 hours of homework).
KAY KRISTIN August 30, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Thanks for the explanation, Jim...now it makes more sense. I just found it odd that it only applied to two grades....
Dawn Shipley August 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Former 5th grade teacher/current childcare director/parent of two young children/former Jefferson student here... and disappointed. Research shows that the breaks that recess provides are important for the learning process. For 6 and 7 year olds, breaking the morning block with a few minutes to play will help with focus for the rest of the day. Heck, I know that I need a few minutes away from my desk once in awhile, just to be able to focus more when I come back.
3393 August 31, 2012 at 10:16 AM
What a dumb decision by the principal. Eliminating recess for 6 and 7 year olds? I question this principal's ability to lead an elementary school because she lacks common sense.
Michael August 31, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Rediculous! Every student in every school should have two breaks, one mid-morning, one before or after lunch. Kids need time to blow off energy. Cutting out morning break will increase misbehaving, in my opinion. It seems to me, two breaks during the school day has worked for a long time, so why change it? My kids still get two, but they don't attend a public school. If their school wanted to change that schedule, I'd have a big problem with that.
paul hruz August 31, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Many years back when I was that age we only had one break not having kids I was surprised to hear the kids now have three
KAY KRISTIN August 31, 2012 at 12:43 PM
We always had three when we were in grade school - a morning recess, lunch and then an afternoon recess.... On the other hand, that was a parochial school...it was also 50 years ago.
ace August 31, 2012 at 02:03 PM
This is all about the lazy union teachers, I am sure of it.
Jim Price August 31, 2012 at 08:24 PM
The "lazy union teachers" just lost one or two breaks in their day as well, ace. They took turns monitoring recess, which gave the rest of them a short recess in their morning as well – and I'm pretty sure that wasn't in their contract. And, by the way, they're losing that time because they're being required to spend more time proctoring state-mandated tests – hardly a lazy task.
ejmorgan September 17, 2012 at 03:37 PM
What exact times were the 3 recesses, and for how long?

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