Extra Time for Recess and Lunch - Yes We Can!

Did you ever wonder why it is so hard for your school to work recess into the schedule?  Or, Why your child has a ridiculously short lunch period?   Or, Why some CPS school days are 5 hours 45 minutes, while others* are 6 hours 30 minutes in length?  Bottom line: When it comes to the school day and how the time is spent (or not spent), everyone is asking “Why?

In a quest to find the answers, Raise Your Hand stumbled upon a hidden gem within the behemoth CPS system – a policy that allows any CPS school to have recess and  a longer lunch period by adding 45 minutes to the typical school day.  

Essentially, the policy outlines two schedule options available to CPS schools, (1) Closed Campus, which most CPS schools currently use and (2) Modified Open Campus which is the hidden gem.  Modified Open Campus allows for (1) a longer day, provides (2) a longer lunch period and (3) increases physical activity through recess---all critical pieces of a well-rounded school day and academic achievement. 

In the 1970’s, CPS moved to adopt a closed campus schedule that was designed to keep students in the school building ALL day.  In the closed campus model, teachers’ 45-minute duty-free lunch is taken at the end of the day, when children have left the building, thus shortening the child’s school day by 45 minutes.   While this may have served a good purpose in its time, it came at a great cost----effectively eliminating recess and providing only 20 minutes or less for lunch.  Under this model, children have lost the freedom to burn-off pent up energy, recharge during the school day and ultimately be in a better mindset to learn.

Modified Open Campus essentially works by providing teachers with their lunch break during the day, rather than at the end of the day.  The modified open campus we are proposing does NOT allow students to go off school grounds for lunch, but does allow them to go outside, on school grounds.  Under the Modified Open Campus schedule option, schools can contractually take a site-vote to do this now (see CTU contract p. 19 section 4-13). Yet most parents, teachers and even principals have become so embedded in the current school day model that they have forgotten or simply don’t know that this is a viable option for TODAY. 

Energized by this opportunity, Raise Your Hand reached out to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership to gain their perspective.  The CTU leadership agrees that this option is available, understands the benefits of recess for both students and teachers and indicated that they were willing to work with RYH to raise awareness among its membership base. 

With the CTU leadership standing with us, RYH presented this opportunity at the February 23rd CPS board meeting, asking  the CPS board to  “work with RYH and the CTU to renew, promote and encourage schools to adopt the Modified Open Campus option—an option that will result in a better, more effective learning environment for hundreds of thousands of children.”  The immediate reaction from the Board members to our request was a somewhat surprising combination of silence, skepticism and ignorance on this policy.   Despite their lack of enthusiasm, members of the Board did acknowledge the availability of this option and agreed that recess should be a part of the school day.  A representative of the CPS Legal Counsel acknowledged that the benefits from modified open campus should be system wide and not just school-by-school.  Having this policy implemented system-wide would be outstanding.  However, knowing that this option is AVAILABLE CONTRACTUALLY TODAY, are we as parents willing to wait what could be years for the board to make an across the board change to implement something that can be done NOW? 

The problem is clear:  It is no longer 1970.  Recess has been proven to be a fundamental component of a well-rounded school day.  The CPS school day is too short and children need adequate time to eat lunch.  Now, the solution is also clear.  It’s time to “dust off and renew” the modified open campus policy to meet the needs of students, teachers and parents.  Let’s bring this policy to the forefront and add some normalcy back to our children’s school day.  As parents, it is our job to advocate for our children

In the coming days and weeks, RYH will be ramping up efforts to help encourage individual schools and CPS to successfully implement the Modified Open Campus schedule.  As we continue to work with “the system,” we will provide information, share ideas and best practices and help parents come together to take charge and make this happen at our schools, TODAY.  

*Some schools have been on an Open Campus policy for years Lincoln, Bell, Morgan Park, Edison, and Norwood Park.

WBEZ – Eight Forty-Eight Picked up the story and spoke to our own Patricia O’Keefe about the Modified Open Campus. Here is Linda Lutton’s report at 39:21.