School Spotlight on Calmeca Academy: Going for the Gold and Overcoming Barriers to Recess

February 28, 2011 | Written By:

Jose Hernandez with (from left to right) Rochelle Davis and Jovita Flores of HSC and Debra Stanford of TARGET Area Development Corp.

Calmeca Academy, previously known as McKinley Park Elementary, is a school that has put a great deal of focus on increasing wellness programs for their students. Calmeca has visits from OrganWise Guys to teach nutrition education to students at every age level. They offer a Healthy Kids Market, which allows families to stock up on fruits and vegetables once a week.  They offer P.E. and were able to bring recess to the school in the 2009-2010 school year.

However, with the merger of two schools this past year and the student population doubling, Calmeca leaders have faced many obstacles in keeping recess intact.

Jose Hernandez, a Calmeca Academy parent and the general coordinator for the Local School Council Member Alliance of Chicago, played a strong role in bringing recess to his school. Hernandez is also a member of the Chicago Public Schools Recess Taskforce.

“We had recess during the 2009-2010 school year,” he said. “At that time we were known as McKinley Park Elementary, the school had 305 students. Teachers agreed to extend the day by 45 minutes. Our name and location changed with the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. The number of students increased to over 700. The budget we received was based on the number of students we had the previous year.”

With this  limited budget, Calmeca faced many challenges in keeping the recess program viable.

“We could not afford to pay the teachers to extend the day,” said Hernandez. “The new staff would have to agree to extend the day. Most of the new parents and students were used to a regular school day. The space inside the building is limited so recess is a challenge during the winter.”

With the combined help of Calmeca’s principal, Frances Garcia, Hernandez and the LSC, Calmeca began to find a way to keep recess for their students.

“We had to wait for the rollover funds to come in. We included the matter in a LSC meeting. Principal Garcia spoke with the school staff and they agreed to extend the day by 45 minutes. We spoke to the parents and explained the benefits of recess,” said Hernandez.

Principal Garcia submitting Calmeca's application for the HealthierUS School Challenge to USDA's Audrey Rowe at the 2010 Principals' Breakfast.

All of this hard work is paying off.  Principal Garcia was honored at HSC's Principals’ Breakfast in November 2010 for her achievements in meeting the high standards for physical activity and nutrition education set by the HealthierUS School Challenge. (HSC partners with Chicago Public Schools to support schools in meeting this challenge through our Go for the Gold campaign.)

After making some health-promoting changes to food and fitness, the school has seen a significant increase in students’ scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in reading, math and science. And most recently, the school has approved the return of recess to their daily curriculum. The school day will start earlier and end later, giving time for both recess and additional instruction time. 

After helping to bring recess to his school, facing the possibility of losing it due to budget and then finding a solution to keep it, Hernandez can offer some advice to parents, teachers and principals who may be facing similar obstacles:

“I would tell anyone to attend the LSC meetings and bring this concern to the table. Many LSCs have the funds and influence to establish recess at their schools,” he said. 

To learn more about overcoming obstacles to recess at your school, check out Go for the Gold or contact us.

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