Bremen parents question possible elimination of recess

BREMEN — A group of about 25 concerned mothers met at Sunnsyide park last Thursday to share their opinions about the rumor going around that Bremen Elementary School was eliminating recess for its students.
Two of the parents, Deanna Stiles and Jessica Flores (who organized the meeting) shared their feelings at the meetings onset. “We’re not here for a gripe-fest about a bunch of topics,” explained Flores. “Our purpose here is to find out the truth.” Present at the gathering (which ironically was held at the playground) was Bremen Elementary-Middle School Principal Larry Yelaska.
He handed out a letter to each woman present and explained that he had put it together late the night before to give them information about the ideas being looked at in attempting to spend as much time as possible literally educating the children while they were at school. He also said he had sent emails to members of the Bremen Teachers Association (as well as administration) to gather more input. In the letter and in person Yelaska said, “The Indiana Department of Education has continued to raise expectations for all our students and the common core standards that have been adopted are more rigorous than anything we’ve faced in the past.”
He explained that last year’s INDOE implementation of the iRead assessment was used by the state to determine if children were ready to advance to the fourth grade.
“The state wanted us at 90 percent and we had 89.6 percent pass,” he said. “We only had six that had to retake it because they didn’t pass, and the second time they did pass, but it didn’t count to the state.” Yelaska explained that one student who had been away on vacation at the time the test was mandated to be taken was rated by the state as a fail, even though when the student took it in the summer, he passed easily.
“We didn’t have anyone retained because of the iRead assessment,” Yelaska said, “but I have a problem with the fact that the third-graders are passing all the other assessments and even if they do, and then they fail this one, it counts against them and they can’t go on to the next grade.”
Yelaska said he agrees that reading is of the utmost importance for students stating, “If you can’t read you can’t learn and even math, social studies and science is based on reading and comprehension.” But, he said looking at the children’s day, including the state-mandated 90-minute uninterrupted reading study block, the schedules simply did not allow for a second recess beyond the 20 -minute lunch recess which takes up half of the 40-minute lunch period.
“This (320 minutes of each day) does not include transitions to and from each class, bathroom breaks, coming off the bus, taking attendance, or packing to leave” he said. “I knew this decision was not going to be a popular one. ...All four of my kids are in the school. ... Am I going to be the popular dad? No.” He continued: “I’m open to suggestions and nothing has been set in stone, but I’m not seeing any other way to do this other than implementing a 15 to 20-minute, teacher discretion recess.”
The mothers voiced a number of concerns, all of them speaking agreeing that they were opposed to the idea of losing the time for their children to “let off steam,” one of them handing out a printout of her own, an article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children which stressed the importance of recess and listed its many benefits. The article also noted that 20 percent of school systems had decreased recess time since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind act.
Some mothers were upset because they felt children needed that recess time to unwind, to take a mental break, socialize and to move their bodies from their generally sedentary days. One mother said she didn’t want them to send home her elementary-aged student after a day with no recess breaks. Another suggested requiring the teachers to implement a convenient period of time to allow for recess each day and others commented that leaving that choice to work with an individual teacher’s day might not allow for interaction with students in other classes who might be taking recess at another time.
Still another mother suggested that keeping children in a classroom setting without allowing for a second time for physical interaction might result in a higher rate of discipline problems, to which Yelaska replied, “I don’t have the figures with me but I assure you much of the discipline problems take place during recess.” He added, “Children aren’t sitting at a desk all day; much of what they’re doing includes collaborative movement, physical activity and discussion.”
Yelaska explained he could make no final decisions without the Bremen Teachers Association but that at this time, the schedule for 2013 includes only one recess.