MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — So much has changed since most of us were in elementary school. Not just in the classroom, but also at recess.

A national non-profit called Playworks started training “recess coaches” in Minnesota five years ago. These coaches lead children in organized activities during free time outside. Recess coaches are now in several public schools across the Twin Cities.

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When you think of recess, you think of kids running outside to get some fresh air and finally getting a chance to be loud after sitting quietly in class.

But it can also be a time that some kids find themselves excluded from play, or the targets of bullies.

“They might not have the skills, they might not have the ability, they might not feel welcome,” Playworks Program Manager Todd Wallace said. “So we try to make sure every kid feels like they belong out at recess by providing them with those choices to get involved.”

Recess coaches get games going the moment the kids step outside, making sure everyone who wants to play gets a chance. Participation is optional. If a child wants to have time alone or socialize with friends, that is also fine. At the end of recess, they help students settle down.

“A lot of kids are still excited and energetic from recess, so kind of getting them lined up or doing some breaths or some cheers, and maybe a staggered entrance back into the building can really help with a smooth transition back in,” Wallace said.

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Recess coaches are now in ten Minnesota school districts, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnetonka, Robbinsdale and Edina.

Local Executive Director Shauna McDonald says schools are seeing fewer behavioral problems at recess.

“We also teach the skills to children around how to interact with each other, those social and emotional pieces. So empathy, kindness, respect, how to solve a problem,” McDonald said.

This program is for elementary schools. Some schools hire a Playworks coach who supervises their recess time. Others send some of their staff members to Playworks for training, and then they become the recess coaches. These folks are in addition to the teachers who are out on the playground keeping an eye on things.

The cost of the program varies from school to school. Some of them get grants to pay for it.

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St. Paul’s school district has recess coaches in three schools and a contract with Playworks for $28,000 to provide that service across the school year.