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Study: With a little push, students get a lot more out of recess

When recess facilitators encouraged city students to jump rope or play tag during recess, girls were more likely to get moving and boys were less likely to get into fights, according to a study released this week.

The study looks at the Recess Enhancement Program, a decade-old program in which coaches enter city schools during their recess periods to organize and facilitate games that encourage physical activity. The program is run by Asphalt Green, a non-profit trying to combat childhood obesity, and currently operates in 34 city schools.

The program was founded in 2001 at six schools and is set to grow to 75 schools by 2013.

The study, conducted by a professor and graduate students from Hunter College, used an observation rubric to compare “enhanced recess” at 20 schools to traditional recess at 12 schools. The researchers found that students in traditional recess programs were four times more likely to verbally attack each other and show other signs of aggression. They also found that overall vigorous activity was nearly 50 percent higher among girls and boys ages 9 to 11 at schools where REP coaches offered games.

Just over one in five children in New York City’s elementary and middle schools is considered obese, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control. New York was the only city to see its childhood obesity rate decline in the last five years.

Farid Reyes, principal of P.S. 103, brought REP into his Bronx elementary school when he became principal in 2010. A combination of unstructured indoor and outdoor recess was offered at the Wakefield school in years past, but the changes after introducing the new program were well worth its $2,000 price tag, he said.

“They’re interacting in a very healthy way, and that has created a different kind of environment among the students. I think that’s very critical,” Reyes said. “And beforehand, the students are more engaged academically because we have made this program more of a reward system. The students know that, if they’re going outside and being able to participate in the games, they need to do the work.”

A coach comes to the school almost every day to offer structured recess to students during the second half of each of the school’s three lunch periods. Once a year, Reyes sends a teacher to Asphalt Green’s offices to receive training on bringing instruction into recess time.

The operating cost of the program is $10,000 per school, according to Carol Tweedy, the executive director of Asphalt Green. Tweedy said the program is meant to push students toward more vigorous physical activity, in contrast to a culture of sedentary activity, such as sitting and talking, or playing a baseball game in which the majority of players stand and watch.

Reyes said the tone on his school’s playground is palpably different from the typical recess scene, with students playing respectfully — and continually — in small teams.

“If you want to get kids vigorously moving, heart rate up, structured play is a very efficient way to do that,” Tweedy said. “We have developed a curriculum that has games that are specifically designed to keep kids really moving.”

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