For four sessions per day, five days a week, recess is in full swing at Oceanside Middle School, now that the school offers an extended lunch period for students.
Before the 2019-20 school year, only elementary school students went out for recess. Once children moved up to seventh grade and into the middle school, lunch periods were 21 minutes and confined to the lunchroom.
Now, beginning this year, middle schoolers receive about 40 minutes for lunch, and the second half can be spent engaging in an indoor or outdoor activity of their choosing.
“We want to always model for students how they can live a physically active lifestyle,” Principal Allison Glickman-Rogers said, “and we felt that not having recess for that 20 minutes misrepresented what we know and believe is good for kids, so we wanted to address it.”
The change comes as the Oceanside School District continues to strongly focus on students’ mental health. A longer break in between classes helps students to let off steam and process their busy days, school officials said.
The Board of Education, school administration and teachers’ union all worked together to tweak the school schedule and make recess possible. “We were really interested in making this idea work for kids,” said Michael DeMarco, a social studies teacher at the middle school and representative from the teachers’ union. “We talk about mental health with kids and push that so much, yet we had 20-minute lunch. So we thought, ‘How do we fix that?’ And that’s what got us here.”
When the weather is nice, students can go outside and participate in activities such as soccer, football, volleyball, Frisbee, corn hole and Spikeball. If it’s cold or rainy outside, students can play ping-pong and foosball in the commons room next to the lunchroom or visit the fitness studio for a workout.
The fitness room has yoga equipment, a treadmill, workout balls and resistance bands. Students can project workout videos from an iPad onto a screen and follow along.
“It’s been a success,” said John Messina, a physical education teacher at the school, “and it’s good for them because they should not sit for 42 minutes after they eat. It gives them the chance to get up and do something — that’s so important.”
The middle school’s four gym teachers each supervise one lunch-and-recess period per day, along with two lunch monitors and an administrator.
Overall, students have been enjoying the free time. “It gives us time to process everything,” an eighth-grader said. “Last year it was 20 minutes and we would go to class right after.”
“It makes the day go by quicker,” another said.
Glickman-Rogers also noted that recess gives the students more autonomy, which is important for adolescents as they adapt to having more independence. For this block of the time, students have a choice to go outside, socialize, do homework, meditate, exercise or stay in the lunchroom.
“We’re also modeling healthy things that they can do, rather than sitting in front of a TV or on a device,” Glickman-Rogers said. “Maybe they’re having fun doing something here that then they’ll choose to do outside of school.
“The kids have been really very respectful and appreciate the opportunity,” she continued. “They don’t want to lose it, so they’re doing a great job with it.”