Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles announced on Tuesday that he is changing the recess schedule at schools under the New Education System to allow for more unstructured play time for kids in response to a push from parents.
All students in pre-K through fifth grade classrooms in the 85 NES and NES-aligned schools will now have a single 30-minute recess period each day, according to the district, an increase compared to a former schedule that included two shorter breaks for the lower grades and no recess in fifth grade.
“Teachers shared that they believe these modifications will limit lost learning time and maximize high-quality instruction, and we’ve heard from many families that they value unstructured free play time for their students,” Miles said in a statement. “We were able to make these changes without sacrificing high-quality instruction time and we believe this will enhance the environment in our schools and support student achievement.”
The change marks a big win for an HISD parent advocacy group called Free Play Houston, whose members have written letters, met with administrators and orchestrated an email campaign in recent weeks in an effort to push for more recess time for NES students, pointing out that shortening recess time may stand in violation of state law and HISD board policies.
“We are overjoyed that a child’s right to play will be respected and valued this school year,” the organization said in a statement on Tuesday, thanking those who emailed HISD leadership about the issue. “Houstonians have long known that all children need an unstructured play time during their school day. Decades of research shows that recess not only promotes social and emotional skills that become fundamental learning tools, but that recess also benefits students by improving their memory, attention, and concentration.”
Before these changes, the latest version of the NES master schedule allowed for one 15-minute recess in the morning and one 15-minute break in the afternoon for kindergarden through fourth grade students, with no additional time built in for getting students to and from the playground, according to Brooke Longoria, co-founder of Free Play Houston and an HISD parent.
Additionally, the former schedule included no recess for fifth grade students, with district administrators saying their physical movement needs would be met through Dyad programming like martial arts, dance and spin bikes, along with PE class.
The modification appears to be the first time the new state-appointed superintendent has responded to community pushback by changing course.
First, kudos to Free Play Houston for being the first group of HISD stakeholders to actually get Mike Miles to listen to them and change his mind about something. How it took this long for that to happen is a separate matter, but for now good for them.
I’m just back from a long road trip as I sit down to write this. I was going to write some gripes about how we got to be in this position in the first place and so on, and then I decided to just take the W and leave it at that. I suspect there will continue to be no shortage of Mike Miles things to complain about, I may as well save my energy for them. Whatever Free Play Houston did to get this win, please share it with everyone else.