Elementary students to get additional playtime in the 2019-20 school year

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All elementary students in Frisco ISD will participate in a structured “brain break” during the school day as a part of a one-year pilot program that starts in August.

The break will last 10-15 minutes and be in addition to the traditional 30-minute recess, said Christy Fiori, FISD managing director of elementary schools. The breaks give students time to exercise their bodies and their brains, whether it be outdoors or indoors playing with with giant checkers, Jenga, hula hoops or jump ropes.

The pilot is an extension of a previous trial at five FISD elementary schools during the 2018-19 school year. The district surveyed school staff and parents after the test and received positive results, Fiori said.

Among the findings, nearly 45% of teachers at pilot schools reported students were better at new concept retention and less disruptive than students at the same point the year before.

“There were noted pieces in there about increased attention and focus for students,” Fiori said. “… It gave us enough information to feel like this is something we need to explore further.”

The 2018-19 pilot

Norris, Fisher, Borchardt, McSpedden and Pink elementary schools participated in the initial pilot program last school year. The district chose each school based on diverse demographics and geographic location, said Allison Ginn, FISD K-12 physical education and health coordinator.

Each campus set aside an average of 15 minutes during the school day for a brain break.

The school health advisory council is a group of district-level administration, parents, students and community members that advocate for community values and health issues in FISD. A subcommittee on physical and health education analyzed data and conducted surveys over the program’s impact.

FISD parent Angela Dunford became interested in brain breaks when her oldest son began kindergarten with only one recess on his schedule. The mother of three eventually started the Frisco Parents for Recess group in April 2018 just before meeting with Ginn and Monica Jackson, the managing director of elementary student services, to advocate for additional recess. She then joined the advisory council in the 2018-19 school year to track data for the pilot.

Dunford said the advisory council tracked attendance, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness scores and developmental reading assessments, which Fiori said remained stable after the five-school pilot.

“This past year, we did not see any decline in the academic progress of students within the five pilot schools,” Fiori said.

Dunford said principals, teachers, parents, counselors and nurses were surveyed from all five pilot schools. Select surveys were also sent to five non-pilot schools.

Those from non-pilot schools were more than twice as likely to say they felt behind on where they should be from the year before.

Sarah McMullen’s daughter was in first grade during the pilot program at Pink Elementary. She said her 7-year-old has high stress and anxiety and started the year behind in reading.

McMullen said she saw positive results in her daughter from “day one.”

“By the end of the first semester, she was at or above grade level [in reading]; she was enjoying school more; she was less stressed out, coming home happy,” McMullen said. “Just a totally different kid.”

In neighboring Little Elm ISD, kindergarten through second grade students at all six elementary schools get four unstructured outdoor play breaks each day. This comes from the LiiNK Project, started by Debbie Rhea, associate dean of research and health sciences at Texas Christian University. Students in Little Elm also get 15 minutes each day of character curriculum, which helps build social skills and supports mental and emotional health.

Through the LiiNK Project model, Rhea said Little Elm ISD students saw significant improvements in off-task behavior, body mass index, memory and the ability to complete multiple tasks. Additionally, she said outdoor play improved students’ immune systems and emotions.

“They’re happier and becoming more resilient as a result,” Rhea said.

Prosper and Lewisville ISDs, whose boundaries fall within Frisco, currently have one 30-minute recess each day at their elementary schools.

The new pilot

Principals will have discretion when scheduling brain breaks, but the 10-15 minutes cannot be parceled out and cannot be grouped with recess.

“The idea is that we have some learning, [then]we take a brain break,” Fiori said.

While the brain break is planned as part of the school day, Ginn said the actual play time is unstructured.

“We’re not telling them how to play, who to play with,” Ginn said. “We’re giving options.”

Ginn said a form will go out to campus principals with additional resources.

A committee with district and campus leaders as well as a member of the data analysis team will lead the 2019-20 pilot.

Brain breaks fit within the district’s social and emotional learning priority, Fiori said. Students will have time to problem-solve, collaborate and gain a better understanding for how to build positive relationships with each other, she said.

“We view this brain break as an opportunity to enhance those opportunities,” Fiori said.

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