From Pia Cisternino on behalf of the Cambridge Recess Working Group, Jan. 26, 2015: The statement below was presented at the School Committee budget hearing Saturday to the committee, Superintendent Jeffrey Young and Mayor E Denise Simmons. To add to community support for more recess in our elementary schools, there is an online petition.

LetterWe are asking that our K-5 students be provided additional time for recess during the school day. Cambridge can do a better job of meeting children’s needs for unstructured, outdoor play and exercise. If more money is needed to make this possible, we ask that money be allotted for this purpose in the budget.

Many of us share the goal of providing a developmentally appropriate education for our young students. Adding recess time is part of this overall goal. There has been a marked increase in the past few years of the intensity of children’s emotional needs within our district. This increase has coincided with a push to increase students’ time spent on classroom instruction and on standardized assessments. Increasing instructional time and assessment time have not made a dent in the achievement gap. Meanwhile, research has shown that increasing recess time improves kids’ ability to focus on academic tasks, while reducing behavioral issues in the classroom.

We are recommending that our elementary schools provide students with at least 15 to 20 additional minutes of unstructured playtime each day. That being said, it is crucial that teachers be included and supported in figuring out how best to implement the recommendations and best support the needs of their students. We support teachers’ request for less testing and more learning, and we envision that adding recess will fit into those efforts. For young children, play is learning.

Last year the School Committee pledged a commitment to improving social-emotional learning and improving disciplinary practices.

Children have basic needs that have to be met before more complicated ones can be addressed effectively. Teachers have reported that the Cambridge Weekend Backpack program has made a significant difference in the classroom – providing students with proper nutrition enables them to focus on learning. Just as nutrition is a need, exercise and play are needs that can be addressed by our schools.

When students’ needs are not met, they communicate this through their behavior. It has been documented that children with special needs and children of color get a much higher proportion of disciplinary action within our district. Providing more recess would be providing a more equitable system.

Some neighboring school districts have structured additional recess time within their daily schedules. We look forward to hearing from you about how we can move forward in providing the same to students in Cambridge.