We support a longer school day for Cambridge – but only with more time for recess and lunch
My husband and I have been Cambridge residents since 2007 and have two children who attend or will attend Cambridge Public Schools: One is in kindergarten, and the other will start in 2020. My husband has worked in public schools for more than 20 years; we are passionate about public education and feel fortunate to to send our children to CPS.
When we first heard the district was considering lengthening the standard school day for elementary and middle schools, we were opposed. It’s already a long day for our daughter – spent mostly indoors, sitting. We walk to and from school, but students taking the bus to school have even less time to play outdoors.
Many CPS parents have been concerned about the length of recess and lunch for some time.
The data show more recess time improves educational outcomes and reduces discipline problems in school. Outdoor free play is critical to development of body and mind. More than 40 percent of Americans are nearsighted, up from 25 percent in 1971, and research indicates time spent outdoors from age 6 to 14 is critical for prevention. Recess and lunch times are important for social-emotional learning, as children negotiate rules and pick teams for playground games.
Recess and lunch are also equity issues. Students of color, black students specifically, are more often disciplined than their white peers, as are students with special needs compared with their general education peers. Data show this to be true across the country, and Cambridge is not free from racism nor implicit bias. Adequate recess will not solve these difficult issues, but if the need for discipline is reduced, so is the opportunity for implicit bias to influence how discipline is applied unequally.
Similarly, a hungry child cannot focus and learn. Parents and kids report insufficient time to eat lunch, and my husband has observed that children getting school lunch have even less time to eat from having to wait in line. For this reason we pack lunch most days, even though our daughter loves the school lunch. Still, food comes home in her lunchbox uneaten – even foods she likes.
Inadequate time for lunch is an equity issue, because students who get free lunch don’t have the choice to pack lunch from home and get a few more precious minutes seated with their lunch. Can’t we give them a few more minutes to finish their school lunch, which may be the best meal of their day?
Lunch should be a time to learn about healthy eating, to catch up with friends while enjoying a meal. Cambridge has gardens in every school, and our menus often feature local produce. CPS provides a wonderful lunch, so let’s give the kids time to enjoy it. And while our recycling and composting programs are laudable, food ideally belongs in students’ bellies, not the compost bin due to lack of time.
We started a petition to support the longer day if and only if more time is guaranteed for recess and lunch. (A petition for more recess time gathered 328 signatures in 2017.) If you agree, please sign and share – so far the petition has more than 145 signatures.
The petition can be found at bit.ly/2sPyCtx.
Mary and A.C. Shillue-Goldberg