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Re-Energizing Recess

By Hannah Jastram, Communications Associate — Family Development

SNAP-Ed Educator Carolyn McQueen works with Crow Wing County schools in northeastern Minnesota. At one of the schools, Garfield Elementary in Brainerd, she does direct education, teaching students how to make good nutritional choices and be physically active.

When Carolyn was introduced to Dave Baloga, the physical education specialist at Garfield, they realized that they had some common goals. Dave had noticed some students were inactive during recess and that a considerable number of students had discipline issues. He suggested that “active recess” — an idea he heard at a SHAPE America conference he had attended — might be a way to address both issues, and he offered some ideas on how to bring active recess to Garfield. They decided to work together on the suggestion.

In addition to her work with direct education, Carolyn also serves on the Crow Wing Energized Steering Board Committee as part of her PSE (policy, system, and environment) work. Crow Wing Energized is a coalition of more than 60 agencies working to improve health and wellness in the Brainerd area. At the time Dave and Carolyn met, Energized was granting funds to organizations that were initiating health improvements. Carolyn encouraged Dave to write a grant and he was awarded $5,000 to put it toward active recess.

Longstanding best practices for recess include providing at least 20 minutes of recess every day for all students, preferably before lunch and outdoors. “Active recess” takes thing further by incorporating programming and equipment designed to increase physical activity levels on the playground. Active recess also incorporates other best practices, including a wide array of self-selecting activities to choose from, the opportunity for all students to participate, and time and space for students to come back to the classroom 'ready to learn.

Carolyn and Dave wanted all the students to participate during recess by offering multiple activities. Their idea was to provide a variety of equipment to increase participation and to decrease congestion on play structures. So Dave mapped out the playground and designated different areas of play. This spring, he ordered display signs for nine different active recess stations.

Each Active Recess station sign has a physical activity and health-related message on it. 

Other improvements to the playground included lines for foursquare and hopscotch, and a shed to store equipment, including jump ropes, hula hoops, and other equipment for structured games.

Garfield School trained teachers and playground aides on active recess. Dave and the other physical education specialists teach the students a new group game each week. These group games actively engage students and help build social skills. Already, the Garfield principal said traffic to office during recess because of “issues” has been cut in half.

Dave didn’t stop at physical activity, however. This fall, he introduced the Gopher Fitness Club, an organization to encourage students, parents, siblings, and staff of Garfield Elementary to enhance their fitness level. Points are awarded not only for exercise outside the school setting, but also for eating fruits and vegetables and drinking water. “They ask the students to turn in reports once a week,” Carolyn said. “And there are prizes!” This is the first year Garfield Elementary has tried a fitness club. It hasn’t been evaluated yet, but that’s part of the process.
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