The bill to require 20 minutes of recess a day seems unlikely to make it through the last days of the Florida legislature. Update: It failed. At least kids still have PE, right?
Florida law already requires physical education class for 150 minutes a week in elementary school. But do students actually get the full 150? Most parents look at the schedule the school sends home with their children, add up the minutes and say, ‘No.’
Take Limestone Creek Elementary in Jupiter, for example.
Like most schools, Limestone has a number of courses its students cycle through one per day, called “the wheel”. The wheel is a seven- or eight-day rotation that includes five subjects in a given semester: art, music, PE, computers and either media (the library) or guidance. PE is in the rotation more than once, the administrators explained, so that each student gets PE via the wheel three times a week for 35 minutes a day.
That’s 105 minutes.
Look at the wheel schedules as at other schools collected from parents across the district, you see the same thing. A half hour three days a week. Thirty-five minutes on Day Four.
“I don’t know one wheel that would get to 150 minutes,” said the district’s Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald.
Instead, each school is charged with creating schedules that have classroom teachers cover the rest of those minutes either inside or outside the classroom, Oswald said. These additional minutes are not to be confused with recess, which is encouraged by district policy, but not required, Oswald said.
PE is defined by Florida law as “physical activities of at least a moderate intensity level and for a duration sufficient to provide a significant health benefit to students” in a program reviewed by a certified PE teacher.
By district policy, PE is supposed to be an activity in which students practice motor skills and social skills.
It includes “individual activities as well as competitive and non-competitive team sports,” according to policy.
These days, every Palm Beach County elementary school has at least one PE teacher, some have two – one, in the Glades, has three, said Eric Stern, who is in charge of physical education curriculum for the district. That’s more than were in school about a decade ago, he recalls.
But it’s not enough for every student, every day.
So the district relies on classroom teachers for the rest.
The district has given them training in a variety of ways to do PE, Stern said.
“It could be indoors or outdoors. It could be a jump rope lesson, relay races, a modified game of kickball. That’s what it could be,” Stern said.
The district has created physical activity packets with 100 suggestions that require little or no equipment. Teachers can also tap into resources such as GoNoodle, an online trove of activities and games to employ in the classroom. (According to GoNoodle’s monthly report, more than 1,800 teachers tapped into the site and played more than 25,000 “physical activity breaks”. Allamanda Elementary was a top user this month with 930 breaks played.)
Every minute, in every classroom is not monitored by the district, however.
Each school submits its plans to the district as part of its “master board” of scheduling. But that board does not drill down to each teacher’s room. It’s up to the principal to be sure each teacher has scheduled that time for his or her students, Oswald said.
“It is challenging. Principals and teachers are frustrated because there are not enough hours in the day to get everything on there that is required,” Oswald said.
They aren’t the only ones frustrated.
Sharon Owen, a mother of two, questioned how much playground time her children were getting. A proponent of the failed required recess bill, she looked at her children’s schedules and didn’t see 150 minutes of PE either.
“I’ve spoken to my school about this and they’ve used recess to get to the 150 minutes of PE. They’re telling me recess is structured with a teacher. They say recess is the same thing. To me, they’re not following the law.
“People need to know they’re kids aren’t getting recess. People say kids are getting PE, but are they? Pick one. It’s recess or it’s not.”
Missed the story on recess?
Joy Kastanias wants to be clear: Her daughter is getting recess at school daily, but in the Jupiter mom’s circle of friends, the girl seems to be the exception.
So many people told the parent activist, “I don’t know why my kid isn’t getting recess,” that Kastanias started asking around. Eventually, she found herself seated before the Palm Beach County School Board armed with a fistful of woe and advocating for a law to do what many teachers can’t – find time for children to play.
It shouldn’t be so hard, Kastanias argued. The district’s own wellness policy“encourages” daily recess in the lower grades.
Yet it has become urgent enough that like-minded parents have managed to forward a bill during this legislative session that would demand 20 minutes of recess daily for every elementary student in Florida.