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Murray Journal

Liberty Elementary introduces structured recess program to reduce playground issues

Oct 04, 2017 10:03AM ● By Julie Slama

Liberty Elementary created zones for recess games to help kids get involved in playground activities. (Shawn Johnson/Liberty Elementary)

This fall, there have been less issues on Liberty Elementary’s playground, thanks to introducing Playworks, a structured recess program.

For fourth-grade teacher Toni Wilkins that means her class can settle right back into studying.

“It was not only during recess, but after recess I’d have to listen to playground concerns and take up class time in front of 25 students to solve issues,” she said. “Now, that has been reduced by kids knowing how to play games, having common rules for the games, knowing what games they can play and having enough playground equipment to play them.”

Beforehand, Wilkins said there would be issues about a student bringing out a ball and taking ownership of a game or the students would get in groups and just talk. Those who would play at recess tried to create playground games from videogames they played.

“It wasn’t playing the games we used to like basketball, four-square or hopscotch. They didn’t know how to play those,” she said.

After one year of a faculty recess committee making some progress, Liberty faculty voted in support of introducing Playworks.

“We were improving, but at a much slower pace and our staff still had some of the same ongoing concerns, said school psychologist Shawn Johnson. “We had an opportunity for Playworks to do a professional development and it gave us more structure as well as the students.”

That structure includes having defined zones assigned to games, such as hopscotch, four-square, Switch, jump rope, basketball games, tag and a soccer game. It also began with faculty and physical education teacher Nicole Wintch teaching the games to students and establishing common rules. More equipment was purchased and placed by the zones where they were needed instead of each teacher purchasing items for individual classes.

In addition, Johnson, Wintch and Principal Jill Burnside help the two recess aides on the playground.

“We will start games, help them get going and move along to another zone to make sure things are going smoothly,” Johnson said. “We’re much more organized and have more painted areas so kids know what’s been played where. In general, it’s easier for kids to join more games as we’re more organized and rules are clearly defined so they’re more comfortable playing with each other.”

Playworks, which began in 1996 and was introduced in Utah in 2011, is a structured recess program that has been introduced to several area schools in recent years to increase positive student interactions, including at nearby Parkside Elementary, which was the first school in Murray School District to become the first Playworks TeamUp partnership in 2016.

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 in 2016. “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.

Johnson said already he has seen that it has helped to reduce the likelihood of students engaging in poor social behavior.

“There’s less chance of them getting angry and resulting in arguments about how to play or if someone is cheating as the rules are spelled out. They’re resolving their own conflicts, realizing what’s fair and accepting it,” he said.

While there are still some issues surrounding sportsmanship, Johnson said many of the issues he has seen in the past are improving this school year.

“The students are being more kind and getting to learn how to play more,” he said.

Wilkins agrees: “They’re getting out and playing the games more. The kids are happier.”