Reversing lunch, recess helps students learn better

September 19, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Recess before lunch?

The concept certainly puzzled many students at Cascade Ridge Elementary School when they were released for recess before eating their lunch Sept. 3.

“It’s different,” said fourth-grader Cameron Tingy. “But we’ll get used to it.”

The program has been running smoothly, according to Principal Colleen Shields.

“So far, it has been really positive,” she said. “We know how important learning is and to learn well, you have to eat well. The kids come from the lunchroom with fresh minds and full stomachs, instead of having recess issues and low blood sugar, which drops 30 minutes into class because they scarfed down their lunch.”

But Shields said she doesn’t deserve all the credit.

“This really came and was driven by the entire staff,” she said.

The school’s staff instituted the program after studying new research from Montana State University, the Missoula City-County Health Department, the King County Board of Health and Action for Healthy Kids Washington, after staff member Demetra Trull put an article about the program in their school mailboxes.

The studies showed students eat more, waste less and show improved focus in the classroom by having recess before lunch.

Armed with new knowledge, Shields and her staff sat down to talk about the different benefits and concerns with the program. They mainly acknowledged the benefits the studies pointed to.

“When lunch is first, some of them eat lunch, but most of them zoom through it to get to recess as fast as possible,” said fourth-grade teacher Elaine Fritsch. “If I had a fourth-grader, I wouldn’t want them to be running around outside with a half-swallowed sandwich in their stomach. So, from a digestive standpoint, it is good.”

Cascade Ridge isn’t the only school in the district to have the program. Newcastle Elementary School has been doing the program since the school opened, about five years.

“We have maximized our learning time by having students eat after recess,” Christy Otley, Newcastle’s principal, wrote in an e-mail. “If there are any recess issues, the opportunity to have them resolved during lunch tends to happen, rather than recess issues slipping into the classroom.

“We have also noticed that students tend to eat better and slower, and along with that, the students tend to eat most of their lunch,” she added. The amount of wasted food has decreased.”

Briarwood Elementary School is also starting the program this year.

Two major concerns were how to avoid congestion and keep organization in the lunchroom, and make sure students could wash their hands before eating, Shields said.

In response, teachers and Shields developed a system for students to enter the cafeteria by grade level, and by those who were purchasing a school lunch and those who had brought their lunch.

They also solved their hand washing by placing large antibacterial dispensers at each of the entrances. Before they can grab their lunches, students have to use the hand sanitizer or wash their hands in the bathroom.

So far, the results are impressive.

“They used to come in and you spent a lot of time hearing about all the recess issues and tattling,” said first-grade teacher Cindi Pacecca.

“We haven’t heard a single recess issue since we started,” said her colleague Jenna Thoresen.

“I find that I’m now planning to do math right after lunch,” added fourth-grade teacher Kristin Page. “I used to plan silent or group reading to wind them down, but now they come in much more calm and I can jump into math.”

Reactions are mixed among the student body.

“I like it,” said fifth-grader Jake Cowan. “I’m much hungrier for lunch.”

“I’m the first one every day, because I’m so hungry,” said Jeremy Bradford.

“We used to be able to eat our lunch slower, because we could use some of our recess time,” said fourth-grader Emily Welch. “But now we have to rush through it.”

“It will take some getting used to,” fourth-grader Katie Mangold said.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com.

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