NEWARK — At Broadway Elementary School here, there is no more sitting around after lunch. No more goofing off with friends. No more doing nothing.
Instead there is Brandi Parker, a $14-an-hour recess coach with a whistle around her neck, corralling children behind bright orange cones to play organized games. There she was the other day, breaking up a renegade game of hopscotch and overruling stragglers’ lame excuses.
They were bored. They had tired feet. They were no good at running.
“I don’t like to play,” protested Esmeilyn Almendarez, 11.
“Why do I have to go through this every day with you?” replied Ms. Parker, waving her back in line. “There’s no choice.”
Broadway Elementary brought in Ms. Parker in January out of exasperation with students who, left to their own devices, used to run into one another, squabble over balls and jump-ropes or monopolize the blacktop while exiling their classmates to the sidelines. Since she started, disciplinary referrals at recess have dropped by three-quarters, to an average of three a week. And injuries are no longer a daily occurrence.
“Before, I was seeing nosebleeds, busted lips, and students being a danger to themselves and others,” said Alejandro Echevarria, the principal. “Now, Coach Brandi does miracles with 20 cones and three handballs.”
The school is one of a growing number across the country that are reining in recess to curb bullying and behavior problems, foster social skills and address concerns over obesity. They also hope to show children that there is good old-fashioned fun to be had without iPods and video games.
Playworks, a California-based nonprofit organization that hired Ms. Parker to run the recess program at Broadway Elementary, began a major expansion in 2008 with an $18 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It has placed recess coaches in 170 schools in low-income areas of nine cities, including Boston, Washington and Los Angeles, and of Silicon Valley.
Playworks schools are not the only ones with organized recess games. In Florida, Broward County’s 140 elementary schools swapped recess for 30 minutes of teacher-supervised physical activities in 2007. Last year in Kearney, Neb., the district had a university professor and five students teach recess games and draw in students who tended to stand against the fence.
……..Dr. Romina M. Barros, an assistant clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx who was an author of a widely cited study on the benefits of recess,published last year in the journal Pediatrics, says that children still benefit most from recess when they are let alone to daydream, solve problems, use their imagination to invent their own games and “be free to do what they choose to do.”…..
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