Arizona’s elementary school children should be a little less stressed this coming year.
Gov. Doug Ducey today signed legislation mandating two recess periods a day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. And youngsters in half-day kindergarten programs will get at least one break.
The legislation is the culmination of a decade-long battle by some lawmakers and education advocates who have argued that letting kids get up and move around will actually help with their academic performance.
Prior efforts were sidelined amid concerns that more time on the playground would mean less time for actual reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. But Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, crafted the final version in a way to blunt some of their concerns.
For example, it spells out that the lunch break can be counted as one of the two recess periods if students are allowed to interact with others or engage in physical activity. It also does not specify how long each the recess period has to be.
Potentially more significant, it spells out that schools need not extend the school day to make up for the lost class time.
That is significant as state law requires students in grades 1 through 3 to have at least 712 hours of instruction a year to be counted when the Arizona Department of Education divides up financial aid. That’s four hours a day over the normal 180-day school year.
For those in grades 4 through 6, the minimum is 890 hours, or 5 hours each day.
Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said in pushing the bill, she is convinced that youngsters need a break.
“Our children are very stressed,” she told colleagues during hearings earlier this year.
Some of that, Allen said, is due to home life and the breakdown of the family. And she said some of it follows the increased pressure on schools for academic performance.
Allen said schools can’t have students under those kinds of stresses and expect them to perform academically.
“Recess is allowing kids to go out and let it go,” she said.
The measure drew some opposition.
Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, said he appreciates that the new version, unlike prior proposals, does not mandate the length of the recess. But he told lawmakers they should leave these decisions to locally elected school boards, saying they are looking out for their students.
“School districts do not make purposeful decisions that harm children,” Kotterman said.
Allen, however, cited testimony from parents who said they have approached both school superintendents and school boards seeking multiple recess periods, only to have their requests spurned. The senator said that’s why legislators need to intercede.
It wasn’t just parents urging lawmakers to mandate the dual recess periods.
“There’s actually empirical evidence that this is effective in improving academic achievement and attention,” testified former state Health Director Will Humble, who is now working with the Arizona Public Health Association.
And Scott Turner, founder of the newly formed Healthy Futures U.S. program, told lawmakers that the increased focus on academic performance at the expense of free time has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of children with diabetes.