Implementing recess time at CVU to bolster community and focus

By Madison Hakey

Have you ever considered the number of smiles per capita? Adam Bunting, the principal at Champlain Valley Union, thought of this as he observed CVU’s first recess on Tuesday Oct. 22. He first got the idea from the book Spark by John J. Ratey, which looks at the effects of exercise on the brain and learning.

Bunting integrated recess at Montpelier High School last year when he was principal there because of this book. MHS Unplugged, as it was called, illustrated for Bunting how recess enhanced students’ ability to learn. He shared a story about a Latin teacher at Montpelier who had been teaching there for 46 years. On the second or third day of recess, she came into Bunting’s office and told him, “That is the first time in 46 years that all the males in my block for class were focused.”

It is still up in the air if recess will be integrated into the daily schedule at CVU. “It depends what the students want to do,” Bunting said. “I’m not going to force recess on everybody.”

If it was integrated at CVU, it would be after third block, as a break to re-energize before the end of the day. It’s also not certain that it would be an everyday event. “I would do it every day if I had the choice,” Bunting said. “Sometimes we ask students to be engaged and for much longer than we ask adults to. I don’t know an adult who feels like they could work four blocks straight, and be engaged without taking some type of break.”

Another example of the benefits of recess came with the same teacher, who loved to knit during MHS Unplugged. Bunting walked past her room and saw some of his toughest lacrosse players, who he coached at the time, knitting with her. This common interest helped build a unique relationship between these boys and their teacher, one that mostly likely would not have formed without recess. It also helped this teacher, as it has helped many others, see students as a whole person, instead of just a student of their subject and as Bunting pointed out, “that is important because learning needs to move that way. Learning itself isn’t broken into discrete subjects that are discipline bound.”

Recess didn’t just form relationships between staff and students, but between students themselves. “It’s not ‘what do you have to get done for homework’ or ‘what do you have in this class,’ it’s ‘what did you do for recess,’ and that’s a way of bringing up common interests and finding connections between people,” and these connections can be made across grade levels.

Furthermore, these relationships help with all kinds of things, one being anxiety. “Both in CVU and Montpelier High School, and I would guess in our society in general, I see both adults and students who are more anxious than they used to be, and the idea behind recess is to provide both the connections that I think help people ease their own anxiety, and also the break and mindfulness to pay attention to our needs as physical beings,” Bunting said.

Recess could also break CVU’s inflexibility. “One of the ideas about recess, and one of the ideas about doing something that is tangibly different than what CVU has done in the past, is part of my goal as a principle; to help our community be a little more flexible. We are a large and stable ship, which is really good in many ways, but it can prevent us from adapting quickly to a society that is changing quickly.”

In today’s society, it is important to keep up with the times, and this small change is a step in that direction, and in the direction of shifting CVU’s community into a tighter knit one, and a more flexible one. If recess were integrated into CVU’s schedule, whether it be everyday or not, it is clear that the benefits are many.

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