News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Too cold for NY City school kids to go out for recess for 40th day in 2015 winter. In Anchorage, Alaska, kids play outside as long as it's 10 below zero or above-NY Times

3/6/15, "A Casualty of a Frigid New York Winter: Outdoor School Recess," NY Times, Ginia Bellafante

"Midmorning on Tuesday, several hours before snow would return in a ritual that now seems as consistent as receiving the mail, temperatures in New York were cold but not abusive. It was the kind of day, unlike so many others recently, in which forgetting your gloves did not necessarily mean you would feel as if you needed treatment at an urgent-care clinic before you got to work. And yet with the temperature in the 20s, under skies vaguely the color of moleskin, it was neither objectively comfortable nor pleasant.

Despite the relatively mild weather, Tuesday was by rough estimate the 40th day that students at Public School 126 were unable to play outside. Actually, no one can remember the last time the children were able to be outdoors, but speculation landed on sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

P.S. 126 houses an elementary and a middle school in the neighborhood just southeast of Chinatown known as Two Bridges. Many of the students come from the surrounding housing projects that line the East River Drive. P.S. 126 does not have its own playground, which means it relies on equipment in an adjacent park that has been slathered in ice all winter. The parks department hasn’t maintained it, the school’s administrators told me, and as a result children have had to spend recess inside.

In Finland, held out as an international model for educational excellence, where outdoor recess is considered nearly as crucial to academic success as literacy, something like this might ignite a national furor. New York City’s Education Department does not mandate recess; it “encourages” principals to provide elementary school students with at least 20 minutes of outdoor play and activity each day (in Finland a first-grader will receive an hour and a half). But during the past few months, even that standard has been difficult to maintain. Although department policy states that temperature alone should not be a barrier to outdoor play, it discourages schools from sending children outside if it is snowing, if there is ice in the playground or if the wind chill creates an effective temperature of zero degrees or below.

In the past, some parents have complained that these guidelines are too wimpy, leaving schools to cancel recess merely when the temperature falls below 32 or at any sign of light rain. Elsewhere the average 6-year-old is bred for a more extreme hardiness. In the Anchorage, Alaska, school district, children play outside on any day that the temperature exceeds 10 below zero. In Toronto, the threshold for consideration of indoor play is about 13 degrees. In a suburban Minneapolis school district, the cutoff for outdoor play is a wind chill of 10 degrees below zero.

Two years ago, a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that recess played an essential role in children’s intellectual, social and emotional development and that optimal cognitive processing was reliant on periods of unstructured interruption. At P.S. 126 and other schools in poor neighborhoods, it isn’t simply weather that can impede recess, but inadequate space and resources; the school often uses hallways for recreation. About the time the academy’s report was released, the Y.M.C.A. began programs at P.S. 126 and seven other city schools, at no cost to them, to promote and manage recess.

On Tuesday morning, approximately 40 first graders gathered, in a room that was temporarily being used to store supplies, to engage in a half-hour of physical output. Under the direction of a Y.M.C.A. counselor, the children immersed themselves in a gambit of creative visualization. They couldn’t be outdoors, so they would pretend they were, executing yoga poses as they imagined the wilds. We’re going to see some trees,” the instructor told them. “We’re going to see some grass, and you guys are going to be the things we see on these nature walks.” The children, standing in rows, began marching in place. “The first thing we’re going to see on our nature walk is some mountains,” the instructor continued. “The next thing we’re going to see is some grass in the wind.” Tree poses and plank positions followed.

Because of the Y.M.C.A. program, children at P.S. 126 receive 30 minutes of recess a day and don’t seem to mind that they are indoors, a few blocks from the F.D.R., merely simulating Lake Tahoe. I asked one little girl whether she would prefer if the sessions were held outside, and she affirmatively said no.

Presumably they are crying only in Helsinki."

Image caption: "Lucas Lin and other first graders at Public School 126 near Chinatown have not had any outdoor time for 40 days. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times"




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