By Samantha Smith, NewsRadio 830 WCCO

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Instead of spending the first half of recess picking teams and deciding on which game to play, students in one metro school district get right to the fun.

Last fall, there were new faces on playgrounds in the St. Paul Public School District when it became a Playworks partner.

Playworks is a national non-profit organization that puts a recess coach in each school. The program costs schools $23,500 a year, but administrators say it’s worth it.

“It is worth every penny,” said Eastern Heights Elementary School Principal Jayne Ropella. “It is one of the best things we have ever done. The amount of discipline problems has went to almost none at recess and the bullying incidents are down to almost none.”

The program puts one recess coach in each school. The coach creates a safe, respectful and inclusive environment by developing
standard agreements for behavior, teaching kids the rules and strategies of games and helping disengaged students to participate.

“The end result is you’re seeing kids return to the classroom ready to learn” says Thomas Evers, Playworks’ Twin Cities executive director.

“They’re having a chance to play, be active and engaged in the 20 minutes that is recess as they jump right into games and then return to the classroom,” he said.

Playworks has been around for 15 years, and Evers said 98 percent of the schools they are in want them to return.

In addition to planning programs at recess, the coaches also teach older elementary students to be junior coaches and develop their leadership skills. The coaches also lead individual game time, after school programs and interscholastic leagues.

At the time of writing, St. Paul is the only district in the state that has partnered with Playworks, although schools in the Minneapolis district have shown interest in the program.

Comments (10)
  1. Esther says:

    I could see the downside to constant structured play being children who do not know how to play. We keep elliminating ways for kids to be creative, and use their imagination.
    For some kids, this is the only outside time they have during the day. Wouldn’t it be nice for them to be able to come up with their own games, to start that love of playing now so that it has time to grow when they are adults.
    They will turn into people who can only exercise in a class, or with a trainer. Not able to pick up a ball and play any old random game.
    God forbid they organize a fantasy world outdoors that incorporates the space provided…(my 6 kids were outside doing just that for HOURS yesterday).

    1. Tcheer says:

      This sounds like an idealistic opinion. The realistic side of this is that many children don’t have any idea how to play games safely and imaginatively. They learn the new games and can now carry these ideas on to neighborhood games and free time. I have seen them laughing and playing as never before. They beg for the coach to show them something new and fun. They crave the ideas and excitement that they now get every day. These children will be much better off in their future lives. They will never >> be adults that only seek a “trainer” > . In my opinion.. you need a dose of reality. These kids will be the leaders.

  2. Sharon says:

    I think this school has another problem to address! The principal’s grammar!
    “discipline problems has went to almost none at recess”

    1. CArla says:

      I think that was the fault of the reporter misquoting

  3. CJ says:

    I just see another way for schools to waste money. Let kids be kids at recess..

  4. Christy says:

    It’s not that kids don’t know how to play, it’s that they don’t know how to play nicely and they don’t have a set standard for rules of the game because no one ever taught them the game. My school has Playworks. Believe me, they don’t tell the kids what to do; not even the staff has that much power! Instead they provide a lot of games and activities for the kids to play on their own. And because the kids are having fun and playing games, the dramas they used to make up are greatly reduced. My daughter’s teacher tells me she is now spending more time teaching instead of having to listen to the kids complain about what happend on the recess yard. It only takes on child with a bad experience to take away 10 minutes of class time for the other 31. Hooray for Playworks! It is a great program.

  5. ELA says:

    Playworks is a great idea. It’s a good thing to have them lay down the hand-held device of choice and move. God forbid parents should say, “go out side and play!” (Perhaps childhood obesity would ebb and not continue to increase – who is the monitor of this? Oh, yes, parents.) If only school staffs weren’ already tasked with addressing a world of social issues that we as a community just shrug our shoulders over. Go observe recess – and all the good and bad that occurs – and get informed. Or here’s an idea: VOLUNTEER to make an impact in the lives of our young people – go play with them and have some fun.

  6. Tcheer says:

    Thank you for this awesome description of the true value of Playworks. We have saved hundreds of instructional hours that had been spent on playground issues. I see children that would not have had a chance to be a leader excel at Junior Coaching. Coach Sam, YOU ROCK! Children in the schools these days are so into their video games that organized play is not automatic. We used to have so many arguments on the soccer fields and ball fields that are just not there anymore. Kids are happy, eat better lunches and learn to work together. The money spent on this FAR outweighs the cost of teachers cleaning up playground issues in the classroom and having to delay instruction. Well done SPPS! and PLAYWORKS!

  7. Ekim says:

    No she was probably quoted correctly, the reporter was probably astounded that the principal, Jayne Ropella, has appalling grammer. She is also devious and dishonest.

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