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To recess or not recess

Parents concerned that Heth-Washington Elementary School Principal Doug Cornett was planning to do away with recess for some students met with him May 6 at the school to get clarification about his plan and have their fears addressed.
Cornett said he explained to the parents that he was not doing away with recess for the fourth, fifth and sixth graders, as they might have heard, but had implemented some changes in the way recess will be included in each class’s daily activities.
“We now have 30 minutes of recess every day right after lunch for all students,” Cornett said. “For students in the upper grades, that will change somewhat so that we will have more time for academics.
“I guess I did a poor job of communicating my plan,” said Cornett, who first discussed the issue at a Parent Teacher Organization meeting in April. “We will still have recess at our school, but now, for the upper three classes, recess will be at the teacher’s discretion and not an every day activity.
“On days when we have physical education class or music, we most likely will not have recess in those grades. Teachers will now be able to use recess as a kind of reward for the students completing work quickly or for good behavior.”
“This is a building level administrative decision,” said Cornett, who has been principal at Heth-Washington for seven years and a school principal for 31 years overall.
“Next year, each teacher will include in their weekly lesson plans the time they allotted for recess, and I will monitor that time, sort of as a check and balance system.
“We have a six-hour school day, and some days we were spending as much as 2-1/2 hours on non-academic activities,” Cornett explained. “Some days we would have 30 minutes for breakfast, 30 minutes for lunch, 30 minutes for recess, 30 minutes for art, music or physical education, and 30 minutes for library. That only left us 3-1/2 hours to teach academics.”
He said the students will still have 150 minutes of activities each week that will include physical education twice a week, for 30 minutes each time, and music class.
Cornett said he explained this change to the eight to 10 parents at the meeting, and though he couldn’t speak for them, he said he thought they seemed to understand his plan and accepted the change.
“I can’t say the parents were totally satisfied, but they seemed to understand what we plan to do,” Cornett said. “The students will actually lose less recess time than what was thought.”
Parent Diane Shewmaker of Central, who has a son in the fifth grade at Heth-Washington and will be effected by the new recess policy, said she met with Cornett on her own with a list of questions, and he explained his recess plan.
“After meeting with Cornett, I understood his plan,” Shewmaker said. “I don’t totally agree with the plan, but in a lot of ways I do. I support the fact that recess will become an earned privilege.”
Shewmaker added: “Several parents angrily raised opposition to Cornett’s plan at the April Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting over the recess change, and a petition was circulated among the parents to stop him from doing away with recess.
“I organized a second meeting with Cornett and parents, an hour before the May PTO meeting on May 6, and about 15 parents showed up to meet with Cornett to hear his explanation,” Shewmaker said. “Unfortunately, the parents that opposed him at the first meeting did not attend the second meeting.
“We’ll give this plan a try in the fall. Things have to change, and they’re not always to our liking. Cornett’s plan is not set in stone.”
Cornett said the parents seemed to be willing to wait to see how the recess plan goes in the fall. He said he always respects the wishes of the parents and would be willing to work with them to make whatever changes they might want at that time.
“We don’t want to appear to be so focused on academics that we disregard the other things, but our job is to educate the children,” Cornett said.

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