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Reinvigorating Recess at Washington Park Elementary

Washington Park Elementary School
Washington, PA

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends schools provide 20 minutes of recess per day. Administrators at Washington Park Elementary School in Washington, Pennsylvania went above and beyond by scheduling 30 minutes of recess every day. 

However, physical education teacher Julie Fuerst noticed many students were spending their recess running around aimlessly or standing still waiting for a turn to use limited equipment. Knowing that increasing options at recess would increase the physical activity of her students, Julie applied for a Game On grant, funded by Cargill, to create a structured active outdoor recess program. By painting numerous games, including four square, hopscotch and three basketball courts, onto their playground pavement and purchasing the equipment for the games, Washington Park transformed its playground. Julie taught students how to play the games during PE class, and subsequently all teachers then encouraged them to play the games during recess.

“The wellness initiative was truly a school community effort,” teacher Michele Andersen said. “Teachers modeled the expectation for the students by encouraging healthy choices and active participation in play and recess.”

With over 120 students at recess some days, the added structure was necessary. “It allowed the students to be actively engaged,” Principal Kelley Zebrasky observed. “In addition, the structure led to a greater learning experience for the children. Taking turns, working together and having a framework is something every child and teacher enjoyed.”

The school saw benefits beyond increased physical activity during recess, including fewer visits to the nurse and fewer disciplinary issues. “My students were excited to have an orderly system for activities,” Michele said. “It seemed as though recess was safer and more pleasant for both students and teachers.”

In addition to improving physical activity, Julie knew it was also important to strengthen nutrition education and promotion. Working alongside food service director, Tony Davis, the school began offering monthly taste tests of healthy foods and sending a nutrition newsletter home, while Julie connected the taste tests to nutrition lessons during PE class.

The monthly taste tests occurred on the first Wednesday of the month to coincide with Wellness Wednesdays, a program that encourages the whole school community to focus on health and wellness at least one day a week. On Wellness Wednesdays, students and staff wear workout attire in preparation for teacher-led brain breaks and outdoor walks. Students receive a snack of fruits or vegetables in the classroom, and teachers come together for a healthy breakfast. Thanks to the Game On grant, Principal Zebrasky now sees that “the school community makes better choices each and every day.”