Where’s Recess? Central Indiana schools don’t give kids minimum time outside

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Step into this school and witness a controlled frenzy.

There’s as much spinning, shooting and stomping as counting and times tables.

P.E. Teacher Kim Ward said, “If they miss physical education or health and fitness or ABL, not happy about it.”

Sweat is the norm at IPS Super School 19.

“We believe that exercise makes brain cells,” said Principal John McClure. “And then the teachers, they know every 15-20 minutes to get our students up and doing what are called 'brain breaks' where they’re doing more activity throughout the day to wake them up in class.”

You can’t get too much physical activity at this school. But, we found districts all over central Indiana where 30 minutes of recess is hard to find.

“When my son started kindergarten and it was 15 minutes and I was shocked,” Katie Surfleet said,

“They might get more out of the students if they give them more recess,” said Terri Cribb.

Fifteen minutes on the playground.

That’s all kids in Carmel-Clay Schools can count on. Moms in the district are passionately demanding more.

“I didn’t realize their recess was at 10 a.m. and they were allowed 15 minutes of recess and sit still for four and half hours until the end of the day,” Meggan Williams-Odell said.

“The next thing you know we had over 700 members within a year or year and a half. So we’re not the only ones,” Jennifer Witherbee said,

Connecting on Facebook, parents got the district to consider their request for double the recess – not 15, but 30 minutes.

It’s still just an idea that has not seen a vote.

“It’s going to help them focus better in the classroom, retain the information better. Maybe it’ll minimize some of that bad behavior.” Cribb said.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends 150 minutes of P.E. each week – an average of 30 minutes a day.

But, we found ten districts in central Indiana where 15, 20 or 25 minutes a day is the standard and no more than 30 minutes.

Wayne Township, Washington Township in Indy and Carmel-Clay Schools all accept 15 minutes of recess as good enough.

Dr. Mark Urtel studies and teaches physical education at IUPUI. He blames the recess pinch on you guessed it – standardized testing.

“Some schools have zero minutes. Some are every other day,” Urtel said. "So they find ways to steal time, reducing lunch, reducing time in specials, if kids have specials at all and obviously recess was fair game for that.”

Not to mention, Urtel says, active kids are healthier and more focused.

None of the districts we reached out to wanted to talk on camera about their limits on recess.

Some didn’t even respond.

Carmel-Clay Schools answered our questions in an email, laying blame at the feet of quote: “curriculum requirements.”

And even at the IPS super school, traditional recess isn’t a guarantee.

“With the emphasis on academics, we have to make sure we get all our content in. so we’re lucky to get our one recess time in in a day,” said McClure.

These moms say something’s got to give.

“It’s going to get to the point where there’s no recess at all probably if it stays like this in my opinion. That’s what I see. It’s sad," Surfleet said,  “It’s been going on for years this discussion. And it needs to happen now.”

We looked – and state law does not specify how much time your kids’ school should set aside for recess.

On a ten-point scale – Dr. Urtel rates the Hoosier state at a "four" for the little time we give for recess.

Thirteen states require minimum recess. Only five require the recommended 30 minutes a day: Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

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