Structured activity time helps school

November 11, 2008 6:46:12 AM PST
One San Francisco elementary school has found a novel solution to school yard aggression -- they've turned recess into structured activity time - they say so far its working.

Recess has a whole new feel at the Tenderloin Community School. These kids needed a little help - most of them have never played a spontaneous game of kickball in the street before - so recess was turning into chaos.

It's hard to believe the happy time of recess would turn into the worst time of the day for Principal Herb Packer.

"After each recess we would have a large number of students in the office that needed to see me or the counselor and that was probably an hour of my time every single day," said Herb Packer, Tenderloin Community School principal.

He was working out fights that broke out on the playground, calling parents, and dealing with the bumps and bruises.

"And then when children got back into the classrooms, teachers would have community circles to debrief the issues that happened on the playground - so we would lose instructional time," said Packer.

Even the kids realized unstructured time really wasn't very much fun.

"We always get into fights and stuff and no teacher would even care," said Rohit Kumar, student.

Everyone seemed to agree that something needed to change. So teachers at the Tenderloin Community School now provide structured playtime. Three instructors break the kids up into organized games. Simple games like duck-duck-goose - are making a huge difference.

"The movement to structured activity time has eliminated those problems - 85, 90 percent of them have diminished," said Packer.

It may seem odd to have to teach kids how to play. But teachers say in this urban environment - some kids just don't know how to have fun.

"Big organized games, it's not really an experience they have," said Matt Toney, instructor.

"It's fun because you get to learn new games you haven't played before," said Jasmine Childs, student.

The success of the program can be measured in ice packs.

"We used to give out, in the course of the week, probably, I would say anywhere from 70 to 90 ice packs - ice packs at the elementary level solve every problem conceivable. The biggest change is in the school climate, it is calmer, children are more focused on learning, and they are more respectful," said Packer.

Now the school is only giving out five to 10 icepacks a week. Other schools are starting to notice this program, but it's not something the school district can implement everywhere. This program is privately funded by the group the Bay Area Women and Children.


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