NEWARK – A group of concerned parents went in front of the Worcester County Board of Education last Tuesday to protest the elimination of recess at Pocomoke Middle School.
The issue was placed on the agenda last month at the request of Todd Palmer, one of the parents. At this month’s meeting, Doug Voss represented the collection of parents to the Board of Education and made a brief presentation of statistics and information in the attempt to persuade the board to intervene and restore recess at PMS.
“Our purpose is to obtain the board’s support for recess,” said a document Voss presented to the board, “and obtain a decision to reinstate regular [daily] recess in Pocomoke Middle School schedule programs.”
According to Voss’ presentation, the movement to protect or restore recess to schools is happening at both a local and national level. Voss informed the board that he and the other parents had collected 174 signatures on a petition to bring recess back to PMS. Included amongst the signatures are current and retired educators. He claimed that the petition might have even more parent names if PMS held open PTA meetings, but admitted that was an issue for another time.
During Voss’ presentation, he outlined the benefits of granting students a short break from the classroom during the day.
“Schools with recess have less discipline issues, and there is an increase in academic performance,” he said.
Voss added that kids have, “a fundamental, biological need to play,” citing a quote from author Stuart Brown.
“Play is not trivial; it’s a basic biological drive as critical to our health as sleep or food,” wrote Brown.
Voss played the proverbial Devil’s Advocate, examining the positive effects of eliminating recess to make room for more academics but finding that the pros did not outweigh the cons.
“The law of diminishing returns means that extra half hour of math after two hours of math is not going to help,” Voss said.
In fact, he expressed the belief that replacing recess with academics was actually doing more harm than good, and that kids who got an opportunity to rest and clear their heads in the middle of the day would more be capable of learning in the afternoon than those faced with a seven- to eight-hour block of study.
Though Voss was the official representative for the group of parents, he asked each of them to personally address the board if they wished.
“In case, I forgot anything,” he said jokingly.
Palmer, who had originally approached the board about setting up a meeting, told the assembly that he “believed wholeheartedly in this.”
Michael Hooks, a parent with children in both Pocomoke Middle and Pocomoke Elementary schools, pointed out the huge contrast between the energy levels of his two children at the end of the day.
“You’ve all seen ‘Grease,’ the movie, where the door busts open,” Hooks asked the board, “and they all pour out? It’s like that at the middle school.”
Hooks added that he did not have to fight with his younger son, who still had recess every day, to do his homework as much as his middle school age son, who needed a chance to burn off pent-up energy from the day first.
Another parent, Theo Moses, pointed out that, “childhood obesity is at an all-time high,” and that parents and teachers owed it to the younger generation to keep them healthy.
Board of Education Chair Bob Hulburd told the group of parents how impressed he was by their dedication.
“I want to compliment you on the research and homework you’ve done,” he said. “The board will address this issue one way or another. We need some time to discuss it, to do our own research and homework, time to digest.”
The board began to try and decide on how long it would take to progress toward a decision on the issue. At first, it was mentioned that the topic could be revisited at the next board meeting in late December. However, some board members claimed that the issue needed to be addressed sooner.
The board will be having a budget session on Dec. 7 and it was decided that the matter would be brought up again at that much earlier date.
In attendance at the meeting was a group of Ocean City Elementary School (OCES) students. Hulburd took a moment at the end of the presentation to question them.
“What do you think of recess?” he asked. “Thumbs up or thumbs down.”
The OCES students responded with an overwhelming “thumbs up.”
“Well there you go,” said Hulburd.