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Murray Journal

Playworks Teams Up with Parkside Elementary

Jan 28, 2016 10:24AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Murray - After learning the positive impact Playworks has had with other schools at recess time, Parkside Elementary decided to team up with the organization that is providing students an opportunity for increased fun and involvement on the playground.

“Last school year, the faculty and school community council identified increasing positive student interactions, particularly on the playground, as a school improvement goal,” Parkside principal Colleen Smith said. “Using school data and observations, we also noticed students were not engaging in a variety of structured play, meaning they frequently wandered the playground or played the same few games over and over. At about the same time, I’d heard good things about Playworks and their contribution to schools in neighboring districts.”

After their application to Playworks was approved, Parkside Elementary became the first Playworks TeamUp partnership in Murray School District. 

The TeamUp model has a dedicated coach, Nicole Wintch, at their school. Wintch introduces new games from a Playworks manual each week to individual classes during physical education time, then reinforces those activities outside at recess. The idea is that all students, even the 15 percent who have disabilities, are involved in the structured game time or are given alternatives.

Assisting Wintch are 14 selected fifth- and sixth-grade students who are called junior coaches and are peer mentors as they take a leadership role at all grade-level recesses. 

“We had an application process and identified those who are stellar students or ones who could step up into this leadership role. They’re making new friends and communicating with people they may not usually talk to, while being responsible to lead games and engage peers in games,” Penix said.

Wintch had Playworks training and receives support from five-year veteran coach Ryan Moore, who is a Playworks site coordinator. Moore comes to Parkside for one week each month, rotating amongst three other schools in other districts.

“The kids just love him. They look forward to him coming and working with them,” Penix said.

Moore said that while at Parkside, he works with Wintch to teach games during the classroom physical education rotation as well as play on the playground.

“Each school has a different school culture and different needs, so it’s rewarding to see the junior coaches help others to get along and resolve their own conflicts using methods we’ve taught them,” he said.

Moore said that one way is through “ro-sham-bo” or rock-paper-scissors. They’ve also talked through issues on their own before complaining to an adult.

“We’re slowing changing the culture and empowering students, starting with choosing the activities they want to do. We’ve also evaluated things that have caused conflict. Before students could only bring out equipment from their teachers and couldn’t change their mind or felt responsible and wouldn’t share. Now there is new playground equipment — balls for four-square, basketball and soccer; hula hoops; jump ropes — that is just brought out so there are more options. I love working at Parkside. They have a faculty and administration that cares and is supportive, and the students are great. I’m incredibly happy we’re building relationships in Murray School District,” he said.

Moore also has brought three junior coaches to a Dimension Data conference where they learned from others, as well as participated in the largest Follow the Leader game to set a world record. 

During Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, junior coaches were invited to create care packages and cards for children in hospitals.

“We’re having the students become leaders in several areas — school, service, on the playground and in their lives — and watching how they’re becoming responsible leaders,” Moore said.

With the influence of peer mentors on the playground, Penix said the number of referrals on aggressive behavior has decreased 30 percent from this time last year.

Playworks program director Ben Cromwell said that is similar to studies that Stanford University conducted on Playworks schools.

“Schools that have Playworks have 43 percent reduced bullying on the playground, so students feel safer and are more vigorously active,” he said. “Students also have better self-management skills and are more responsible. They know how to make decisions and can use conflict resolution skills.”

Utah schools that are involved in Playworks support Cromwell’s statement. According to Playworks website, 97 percent of those Utah schools that responded, say it has had a positive impact on school culture, and 96 percent say there has been an increase amongst students in conflict resolution strategies. Responses show a 99 percent increase in the level of participation in academic activities and 91 percent report a decrease in the number of bullying incidents.

Playworks began in 1996 and was introduced in Utah in 2011. According to the Playworks website, Playworks is serving more than 13,600 students in 24 low-income schools.

“It all starts with a simple change. By having start-up games on the playground, we see students who have caused trouble in the past emerge as leaders for their peers and more students being active and having fun. It’s an amazing change,” Cromwell said.