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?Unconstructed' breaks could become part of academic day

By Greg Gelpi

Recess could become part of the school day in Clayton County schools.

The Clayton County Board of Education will consider amending its policy regarding recess to allow for 15 minutes of "unstructured" break time for kindergarten through fifth grades.

The school board will meet at 7 tonight at the Administrative Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro. There will also be a Personnel Committee meeting at 5 p.m. and an executive session at 6:30 p.m.

"The school principal is authorized to determine the length, frequency, timing and location of breaks at each school," according to the proposed addition to board policy. "In determining the schedule for unstructured break time for students, the principal shall consult with appropriate instructional personnel at the school and system level, as appropriate, to ensure that break time provides support for academic learning. The principal shall issue directions concerning the responsibility for supervision of students so the break time will be a safe experience for them."

The unstructured break time must support academic learning, said Jack Warren, administrative assistant for policy and legislation. The proposed change provides the most flexibility for schools to apply the unstructured breaks.

The state mandates the amount of time that must be spent in academic instruction.

"Now apparently you can count recess as part of the academic day," Warren said.

He added that research shows that recess is "developmentally appropriate" for elementary school children.

Barbara Wells, the chairwoman of the Policy Committee, is in favor of the policy change, but said that it could take teachers 15 minutes just to get kids outside to recess and back in and settled down.

Superintendent Barbara Pulliam, though, said recess doesn't necessarily mean the traditional break time that many are accustomed to.

She recalled observing a class in which the students practiced their spelling words by "getting the wiggles out." The students "wiggled" about as they spelled their vocabulary words.

The break time would be in addition to physical education, Warren said.

"This is playtime," he said.

It comes down to whether or not children will benefit academically from the breaks, Warren said.

"Even adults need periodic novelty in the day," he said.

The Georgia General Assembly passed legislation last session requiring all school systems to establish policy either allowing or disallowing "unstructured" free time.

As is practice, the school board won't vote on the policy change at tonight's meeting. The policy will be tabled until the December meeting of the board.