The Recess Wars, 2022 Edition
Last week parents of Marblehead students in grades one through three discovered that their children will have one scheduled recess this year instead of two.
The process was eerily reminiscent of what occurred in the summer of 2021, when an announcement about the removal of the second recess prompted a petition that eventually garnered 480 signatures in favor of maintaining two recess periods. The school administration acquiesced, and the two recess periods remained in place throughout the 2021-2022 school year.
At the same time, a Superintendent’s working group was formed to study the issue, with the elementary school principals, parents, teachers, a School Committee member, and Assistant Superintendent Nan Murphy participating. The group was tasked with evaluating the elementary school schedule, with a particular focus on “time on learning” requirements. Marblehead’s failure to comply with statewide guidelines for the total amount of time each day spent in active learning mode was the original impetus for the proposed recess removal.
The conclusions reached by the working group and the general issue of one versus two recess blocks generated significant discussion at the most recent School Committee meeting, which took place on September 7, 2022. School Committee member Alison Taylor reflected on the poor communication process, noting that “we are back here again with the same frustrations … with the lack of recess ... after saying we won't do this again … nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes and I think it’s ok … to hold ourselves accountable and do better next time.”
Superintendent John Buckey explained that the working group formed the previous year was unable to reach a consensus as to recess, and the decision was therefore given to the two new elementary school principals, Mary Maxfield and Hope Doran, who were hired this past summer to oversee the Brown and Glover schools respectively. School Committee Chairperson Sarah Fox pushed back strongly on Buckey’s statement, noting that she was a member of the working group and her takeaway from the final wrap-up meeting was that “every parent, the administrators, and all the staff, with the exception of Nan … the consensus was that the second recess was to the benefit of the children.” Fox went on to say that “the community members on the committee … communicated that back to the community … and the reason why this became such an explosive issue last week [is because] this wasn't put out in the community and the teachers raised the flag.”
Marblehead Beacon followed up with Superintendent Buckey to clarify the discrepancy regarding the recommendations issued by the working group. While he did not directly address Fox’s claims, his response read, in part:
The working group was charged with exploring the options more fully, taking into account a variety of constraints and considerations, and to propose scenarios that not only addressed parents’ desires but also satisfied State requirements for time on learning. The proposal to maintain two recess periods each day would put the district squarely in violation of those State regulations, and that is not a viable option. Our first obligation must be to adopt schedules that provide our teachers and students adequate time for teaching and learning.
In a separate email sent to Marblehead Beacon, Buckey noted: ”While some parents would prefer that students in grades 1-3 continue to have two recess periods each day, the school teams determined that the previous schedules did not provide adequate time for teaching and learning, and in fact were out of compliance with State requirements for minimum time on learning. We trust and empower our teachers to provide breaks as needed at various points throughout the school day.”
Buckey also provided a link to a video message from the two elementary school principals to parents which includes an update on the school day schedule.
A Marblehead teacher, speaking on condition of anonymity, was cautiously optimistic about the change. “I get it; kids need a break. This just means it is not a set-in-stone recess but you can do a movement break or choose to eat a snack outside.” The goal, she explained, is to have more time on learning for students, and she hinted that an extended school day may in fact be the ultimate goal of the district. The teacher spoke highly of the new principals and noted that she has not witnessed a lot of concern from other teachers. The purpose, she believes, is to allow “more purposeful movement” for students that a traditional scheduled recess does not allow. For example, teachers are expected to develop other types of movement that could be more beneficial for children while also rotating between traditional learning and movement activities. She emphasized that teachers are creative and will adapt well to the schedule change.
Several parents nevertheless continued to express concern. One noted that teachers also need a break during the day, and this change is “not taking care of our teachers” while also cutting back on “free play” for children. Another parent, with a rising third grader, said that her child often came home last year with uneaten snacks and lunch because not enough time was allotted during the school day. Although the new schedule adds five minutes to the lunch period, the parent explained that just one free period is not enough time for “young children to eat lunch, socialize with friends, and have time to play.”