Originally published March 30, 2019 in the Log Cabin Democrat.

By Hilary Andrews

Students across the state will soon be enjoying more break times during their school days thanks to a new law Arkansas’ governor will sign on Monday.

House Bill 1409, sponsored by Rep. Jana Della Rosa, who is serving her third term, was filed in early February for this year’s state legislative session. The proposal suggested requiring elementary schools across the state to provide at least 40 minutes of recess for its students.

HB 1409 passed through both the house and the senate with zero opposition — 92 in favor, eight sustaining — and made its way to the governor’s desk March 27.

Hutchinson’s office confirmed on Friday that he would be signing the bill into law on April 1 — not an April Fools joke.

“My memories of recess are of exercise, exploration and spending time with friends,” Hutchinson told the Log Cabin Democrat in an email Friday.

In recent years, he said, recess breaks have been diminished, an expressed concern of many parents.

“By setting a minimum time for recess, we are not only promoting a healthy, active Arkansas, but I believe teachers will also notice more active minds in the classroom,” Hutchinson said. “I’m always delighted to sign bills into law that are as popular as this one.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, elementary schools across the U.S., on average, schedule 27 minutes of recess each day — national guidance is at least 20 minutes — but only eight states require that recess be a part of the day at all.

House Bill 1409:
‒ To be signed April 1 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

‒ Will require minimum of 40 minutes for recess.

‒ Received zero opposition during 2019 legislative session.

Since the mid-2000s, recess has been reduced or cut in 40 percent of school districts across the nation, despite the many physical, social, emotional and academic benefits found — improved ability to share and negotiate, better social interactions, improved school climate, better grades, test scores, classroom behavior and attendance, improved memory, attention and concentration.

According to the document, Arkansas’ 92nd General Assembly also expressed many of the above positives to recess time and, in addition, found:

  • Educational leaders cannot allow for a sufficient amount of time in the school day for recess within the current construct of the instructional requirements and time allotted in a school day, which generates decreased focus in class and fewer opportunities to develop social awareness among public school students.
  • To address the increased need for public school student social awareness and learning opportunities beyond the classroom, recess should be included as part of the instructional school day.

In addition, now that is has been passed, and, come Monday will be signed into law by Gov. Hutchinson, HB 1409 will:

  • Consist of supervised, unstructured social time during which public school students may communicate with each other.
  • Occur outdoors when weather and other relevant conditions permit.
  • Include without limitation opportunities for free play and vigorous physical activity, regardless of whether recess occurs indoors or outdoors.

Through its many stages over the past nearly two months, the LCD has had the opportunity to talk with Jana Hedgecock, the physical education teacher at Marguerite Vann Elementary in Conway, who helped bring a pilot recess program — giving students 60 minutes of recess a day — to her school, one of only 25 across the state to do so for the 2018-19 academic year;.

After seeing the positive results with her students at the elementary, Hedgecock, a believer in the expanded-time idea, emailed Della Rosa to thank her for filing the bill and to offer her support.

“As soon as we started the pilot program at Marguerite Vann, I knew that my mission was to get students more recess,” she told the LCD last week. “I joked around that we were going to make this go statewide. I am shocked that within a year students across the state will be getting more recess.”

Hedgecock said she played a small piece in the overall big picture of this idea.

“There were teachers, parents and community members all across Arkansas advocating for students to have more recess,” she said. “Before this bill passed, schools were bound by the law in place.”

The initiative started out as an exploration on the importance and need for extended recess times through the pilot program, but grew from there. The bill, sponsored by many in the general assembly, is now about to be mandated across the state.

“Excited doesn’t even start to explain it,” Hedgecock said. “When I saw that it had been passed, I started sending messages and emails to everyone that had helped spread the word about HB1409.”

The LCD wanted to hear from other school districts as well and reached out to ones in Faulkner County.

Guy-Perkins Superintendent Shade Gilbert said he had mixed feelings about HB 1409.

“Feel students need ample time to play and play is important but do not want to valuable instructional time,” he said in an email. “Glad this is considered instructional time so it doesn’t cut into the precious few duty minutes we have to keep an eye on students for safety reasons.”

Gilbert said they currently offer the state recess minimum but will have to look at how best to implement the new law once signed.

Vilonia Superintendent David Stephens said they would have to make the “appropriate adjustments” to the current schedules; Vilonia currently has 30-minute recess for elementary grades.

Conway School District also offers 30-minute recesses at its elementary campuses — with the exception of Marguerite Vann’s 60-minute pilot.

Transition to 40 minutes will come a little easier for Conway because, according to communication specialist Heather Kendrick, the district leadership team and elementary administrators have already been in discussions regarding extended recess times after seeing the success at Marguerite Vann.

“We have not yet made a decision on how long recess will be next year,” she said. “It will obviously be at least 40 minutes, but administrators will have to work with staff to determine scheduling, etc. as we move forward.”

Hedgecock said she’s already had people ask her about that.

“Ultimately, our school and district administrators will make the decision to continue with 60 minutes of recess ,” she said. “They have been very supportive throughout the entire pilot program so I know they will make the best decision for our students at Marguerite Vann.”

Look at the research:

Data collected from the 2014 School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS)— through the CDC — revealed that 82.8 percent of elementary schools provided daily recess for students in all grades, but further showed recess decreases from first to sixth grade; average recess time was 26.9 minutes per day.

Through looking at the collected data, it was revealed:

Regarding recess structure:

  • 93.1 percent of students engaged in free play or physical activity.
  • 2.8 percent were required or encouraged to use physical activity or fitness stations.

When recess can’t be held outside:

  • 29.8 percent engaged in physical activity.
  • 5.8 percent watch a movie.
  • 39.5 percent play sedentary (i.e. board games).

SHPPS information between 2006 and 2014, however, showed an “alarming” trend, the American Federation of Teachers website states. That first year, 96.8 percent provided recess for at least one grade in the school compared to the 82.8 percent by 2014.

Schools across the U.S. have slowly started increasing recess times throughout the past decade, though. In 2011, Chicago Public Schools extended recess to at least 30 minutes a day during its 2012 academic year; same with Seattle Public Schools in 2015.

To date, nine states — Florida, New Jersey, Georgia, Virginia, Missouri, Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana and Rhode Island — have all passed legislation which focuses on extending and/or protecting recess. Arkansas currently requires six hours of daily instructional time for public school students and a waiver must be granted for additional recess time.

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