Recess went by the wayside decades ago at most CPS elementary schools. Today 90 percent give kids only a rushed 20 minutes for lunch, leaving little if any time for recess, according to a Catalyst survey of 320 schools.
But two schools that recently reversed course, returning to a 45-minute lunch with recess, say their schools are better for it.
“There’s more teaching and learning going on in the afternoon,” reports Principal Charlotte Stoxstell of Bethune in East Garfield Park. “The teachers aren’t tired. The kids aren’t tired.”
Principal Joseph Kallas of Peterson in North Park agrees that recess has expanded children’s attention span.
Recess was the norm 30 years ago, according to Margaret Harrigan, a retired CPS principal and subdistrict superintendent. She suspects that many schools dropped it to avoid dealing with discipline problems on the playground. The assumption is, she believes, “that minority students cannot be taught safety and civility, which they certainly can.”
At schools without recess, some principals cite concerns about neighborhood safety. Stoxstell of Bethune says that having children outdoors under supervision deters crime. “The drug pushers tend to move away.”
Some principals also worry about the logistical challenge of managing recess, especially during inclement weather. Kallas of Peterson, which enrolls 930 students, says he moves kids in and out of the building in shifts under the supervision of 10 adults, including six teacher aides. Bad weather cancels recess only a handful of days a year, and then kids play games in the classroom or the gym, he says.
Under the Chicago Teachers Union contract (Article 4-13), switching from a 20-minute to a 45-minute lunch requires approval of a committee made up of the principal, three classroom teachers elected to represent the faculty, the teachers union delegate and three parent representatives from the local school council.