Miami-Dade teachers worry playtime may cut into arts, bilingual classes

Recess. Music. Art. Learning a new language. Is there enough time in the school day to do it all?

Parents and teachers debated whether more time to play in school would come at the expense of equally-important extracurricular classes when the Miami-Dade County School Board cast a preliminary vote on Wednesday to change its recess policy.

The proposed changes need to pass a second vote before the rules become final. School board members and district leaders promised to continue to look for a solution that balances all the needs of young students.

“Obviously, recess is very important to all of us. At the same time we need to respect and address the teachers’ concerns,” said board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman.

The school district already requires recess at least twice a week for elementary school students. The proposed changes call for — but don’t require — 20 minute breaks for elementary students everyday. That break can take the form of outside recess, or indoor “break breaks” like meditation or dancing.

A group of moms leading the local charge for recess say the proposed policy doesn’t go far enough. They want to mandate 20 minutes of unstructured play every day – outside, weather permitting. More than 9,000 parents have signed an online petition calling for just that. The petition was started by four moms from Key Biscayne.

“Recess should be the right of every single kid,” said Debora Hertfelder. “We have children who are stressed out.”

But dozens of teachers turned up to advocate for bilingual education and the arts, worried that more recess time would mean less time for kids to learn how to speak Spanish, play an instrument or create a sculpture.

“How do we do this without tearing apart our programs?” asked Lourdes Fuller, an award-winning art teacher at Shenandoah Middle. “We don’t want collateral damage.”

Valerie Gloria said classes in the arts can serve the same purpose as recess, giving kids a chance to do something fun and creative. Her daughter attends the music magnet program at South Maimi K-8 Center.

“She wakes up singing. She goes to sleep singing,” Gloria said. “I don’t want (recess) at the expense of the arts. That’s the child’s outlet to excel at something.”

Recess advocates insist play time doesn’t have to come at the expense of other classes, especially given the requirements of federal education laws that call for arts education. They also point to studies that show recess helps students learn.

“Play should be considered a key component of the learning process… Educating kids for the 21st century requires much more than academics,” said Victoria Kenny, one of the mothers pushing for more free play.

School district leaders highlighted the difficulties that daily recess would present, especially given the pressures of standardized testing. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said more play time would have to be negotiated with the teachers union, and that could wind up costing the district money.

Still, school district leaders said they were committed to finding time for play and the arts.

“It cannot be an either/or proposition,” Carvalho said. “It must be both.”

Christina Veiga: 305-376-2029, @cveiga