McCormick Elementary School: Success with Recess!

March 17, 2010

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By Marissa Starin, HSC intern

With every barrier comes the opportunity to overcome it. McCormick Elementary School, a Chicago public school, recognized the importance of physically active students and decided to implement recess. Like many schools, they dealt with obstacles: time, budgetary concerns, and safety hazards — but they succeeded in making recess a regular part of the school day. 

In the fall of 2009, McCormick implemented recess for grades one through five for 15-20 minutes. This period is held two times a week in addition to physical education classes, and school leaders are looking to increase it to three days a week next school year. The pre-school and kindergarten spend 50 minutes on the playground with jungle gym equipment and games or in the space in front of the school. If weather is poor, they hold recess in a gymnasium or in classroom spaces. Teachers say they have already seen positive outcomes, including more attentiveness in the classroom.

Wondering how you can implement recess, too? Read on for lessons from McCormick's experience.

Implementing recess was a collaborative effort.The first step toward recess implementation at McCormick was the formation of a wellness team that ensures children are participating in healthy behaviors at school. This team includes the principal, parents, teachers, a lunchroom manager, and community members who together create wellness policies and implementation strategies for the school. This group also provides opportunities for discussion amongst school authorities and parents.

Abraham Duenas, an active school parent, wellness team member, and Local School Council member said that “a wellness team is a required step. Alone it is very difficult.”

Wellness team meetings provide a space for discussing pertinent health concerns amongst school staff, parents, and community members, and to discuss strategies for rectification. After determining the health needs of the school, the team can determine ways to make change, and consider the resources necessary to do so. (HSC's Parents United for Healthy Schools coalition provides resources and training to parents on establishing and maintaining effective school wellness teams.)

An important final link was a letter from the principal, Virginia Rivera, that encouraged including recess in the formal school improvement plan. This step was key to making recess permanent and official. Including recess in the formal school improvement plan means that funding is set aside to ensure recess stays. It also makes the initiative sustainable over time by establishing a system that will be part of the school culture even if individual staff members come and go. McCormick school leaders have now agreed to include recess in their school improvement plan for 2010-2011.

McCormick utilized the resources available to them to help bring back recess; getting everyone involved  contributed to the success of the program. Teachers also say that they understand the emotional, social, and psychological benefits of recess.

Abraham Duenas attributes success to the strong relationships formed at McCormick. “We are like a family here,” he says. ”Everybody interacts. Teachers help children do exercise. They understand the benefits.”

Abraham Duenas offers these recommendations for bringing back recess at a school:

  • Talk to parents, teachers and principals at other schools about recess. Many schools have shared the same struggles and have the knowledge to help.
  • Get school authorities, parents, community members, and others involved in the conversation.
  • Utilize the spaces you have available by playing or exercising in the classroom or elsewhere in the school.
  • Set up a wellness team in your school to oversee health initiatives.
  • Include recess in your school improvement plan. 


To learn more about the benefits of recess and about efforts nationwide to ensure that it's a regular part of the school experience, check out other posts in the Exercise & Recess section of HSC's blog
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