Talking to the Kids, Finally

Yesterday I attended an event in Lawndale where Raise Your Hand was invited to speak briefly about our recess initiative. It was an event sponsored by Power-Pac, a fantastic group that organizes parents on the south and west side. We have partnered with them on the recess issue for several months. There were a hundred or so parents, guardians and kids who came out on a Saturday morning for five hours to learn about ways to improve their schools and get involved in Power-Pac initiatives.

There was a lot of talk about discipline policies at CPS and inadequate resources to help students, some talked about kids being pushed out of schools rather than helped. One mentor said he was pushed out of a turnaround school with a crop of students whom he felt had the potential to do well in the school with his help and the help of other mentors but they weren’t given the chance.  

In a small group session on recess, we were asked to chat with someone about our best memories of recess. A woman from Lawndale told me that she loved having the choice to play freely on the playground, choosing between the swings, the jungle gym or using one of the school bikes that were provided. Now her six-year old is in school and he doesn’t know how to play. Another parent said she attended CPS years back and had two recesses during the day and remembers all of the running and exercise and feeling fit. I recalled using my imagination during recess and running around the playground pretending to be a Wonder twin superhero with my friend Maria, transforming into an iceberg or a mountain lion. Everyone in the room talked about the social skills gained during recess, the ability for kids to unwind and negotiate conflict on their own. Many expressed frustration and sadness that their kids had been deprived these opportunities.

The best part of the conference for me was talking to a group of kids from a nearby elementary school. It made me realize, I have been talking to so many adults about education in the last year and not enough kids, other than my son, who has started plugging his ears on the subject.  At the conference, one student introduced herself as the President of the Student Council. She looked very proud. When I asked the kids what they liked most about school they were short on details. I started asking them what classes they had, and it turned out they had no art, no recess, gym only once a week.  When I mentioned that some parents wanted to increase the amount of gym, make sure kids get recess and have art and music, I was met with an interesting response. More than the smiles there was the look of disbelief. Eyes widened on a few. And then I went back to the parents who were concerned about discipline issues, kids being thrown out of school, restorative justice.

My kid goes to a school where we don’t see many of these issues. My kid also lives in a neighborhood where I feel it’s safe enough to let him play outside for many hours with his friends.  Almost none of these parents that I met could say the same. So, kids who don’t have the chance to enjoy the basic human right of free play on their street have also not been given the opportunity to learn to play on their own school grounds. In addition, they don’t have regular PE and many other basic standards that should be seen in every child’s school day. Let’s stop feigning surprise over drop-out rates and the like. We have to make the school day significantly better by changing the basic standards for all kids in Chicago. There is little dignity in the current day for many of our students. We can do so much better.