PHOENIX — Advocates hope Arizona’s elementary school children will be a little less stressed this coming year thanks to a new law.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Thursday mandating two recess periods a day for students in kindergarten through fifth grades. Youngsters in half-day kindergarten programs will get at least one break.
The legislation is the culmination of a decade-long effort by some lawmakers and education advocates who have argued that letting kids get up and move around will help their academic performance.
Prior efforts were sidelined amid concerns that more time on the playground would mean less time for reading, writing and arithmetic. But Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, wrote the final version in a way to blunt those concerns.
For example, it spells out that the lunch break can be counted as one of the two recess periods if students are allowed to interact with others or engage in physical activity.
It also does not specify how long each recess period need to be, and says schools need not extend the school day to make up for the lost class time.
Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she is convinced that youngsters need a break.
“Our children are very stressed,” she told colleagues during hearings.
Some of the stress, Allen said, is due to home life and what she called the breakdown of the family. And some of it follows the increased pressure on schools for academic performance, she said.
Allen said schools can’t have students under those kinds of stresses and then expect them to perform academically.
“Recess is allowing kids to go out and let it go,” she said.
The measure drew some opposition.
Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, said during legislative debate he appreciates that the new version, unlike prior proposals, does not mandate the length of the recess. But he told lawmakers they should leave these decisions to locally elected school boards, saying they are looking out for their students.
“School districts do not make purposeful decisions that harm children,” Kotterman said.
Allen, however, cited testimony from parents who said they have approached school district superintendents and school boards seeking multiple recess periods, only to have their requests spurned. She said that’s why legislators need to intercede.
It wasn’t just parents urging lawmakers to mandate the dual recess periods.
“There’s actually empirical evidence that this is effective in improving academic achievement and attention,” testified former state health director Will Humble, now working with the Arizona Public Health Association.
Also, the increased focus on academic performance at the expense of free time has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of children with diabetes, lawmakers were told by Scott Turner, founder of the Healthy Futures U.S. program.