Rethinking Recess in Southeastern Alberta
On September 25, 2019, thirty Medicine Hat and area schools attended the 2019 Healthy Active Schools Symposium (HASS). Hass events are designed to provide Alberta school communities with the knowledge, skills and resources to enhance student wellness. This year the focus of the event was on training students as Recess Leaders with the goal of schools starting a Recess Leader program. Recess Leaders are students in upper elementary that plan and lead activities for their peers and younger students on the playground during recess time. Schools in southeastern Alberta were eager to attend this event following a cross divisional Professional Development event on recess in May 2019. During this event they heard research from Dr. Lauren McNamara of the Recess Project which showcased the impact of implementing a recess leader program on the sense of belonging of all students. In sum, recess leaders are a key piece of the puzzle in creating a recess experience that is inclusive to all students.
The thirty schools that attended HASS each came with 8-10 students who had the opportunity to work through some leadership skill building activities in the areas of communication, conflict resolution, and role playing. Students were asked to reflect on their play experiences. When asked about their favourite and hardest parts about recess it became evident that the research emphasis of sense of belonging was paramount. Some of their answers for their favourite parts of recess included hanging out with friends, getting fresh air, free time from work, free play games, a break from school to talk to your friends about your troubles. Subsequently, some of their answers for their hardest part of recess included feeling left out, fighting with friends, hard to make new friends, and exclusion. Following this we asked the Recess Leaders in training what they could do to make recess better for all kids and they said:
- If a kid falls you can help them up
- If a kid is sad you can help them feel better
- Be a friend to lonely kids
- Include little kids
- Play with the kids who are left out
- Help hurt kids to the office and make sure they are okay
One astute student even said “Recess would have been a lot better with a big buddy because if you were having a bad day they would lift up your spirit.”
Following this section of the day, once students really understood what makes a great leader and the impact of their role as recess leaders, they were sent off to begin planning with their school team. All schools walked away with at least one month of Recess Leader activities planned. While each school has implemented the Recess Leader model in their own way, it is exciting to see so many schools taking action on creating a safe and inclusive recess where all students can feel a sense of belonging.
Submitted by Desirea Agar & Sonya Brown