The end of recess used to challenge Quail Hollow Elementary School second-grade teacher Sharon Renberg. Children didn't want to leave the playground. Once they arrived in the classroom, Renberg said, it would take time for everyone to settle down. Those concerns have all but disappeared this year. And the reason is really simple.
Quail Hollow, along with 12 other Pasco elementary schools, joined a Dairy Council of Florida study on the effects of having recess before lunch. Other participating counties include Okaloosa, Collier and Duval.
"I haven't had as many arguments," Renberg said of the change. "It's easier to calm them down."
The switch has had other positive benefits as well.
"The kids get their energy out before they go into the cafeteria," said fifth-grade teacher Lisa Decker, as she supervised a class prelunch soccer game.
By the time the shout comes for lunch time, students eagerly head into the cafeteria. And — surprise — they eat much more of their meals and drink their drinks, whereas last year a lot got thrown away as soon as the cafeteria monitor announced "Recess!" 20 minutes into the half-hour lunch period.
"They run. They come in. They're tired. They're hungry and they're thirsty," said guidance counselor Amy Pinsky, who takes lunchroom duty every afternoon. "They eat better."
Many students said they like the change.
"I like it before lunch," said fifth-grader Shanna Bailey, 10. "After lunch you could get sick because you had just eaten. It also makes you have a better appetite because you just ran around and had exercise."
Second-grader Nathan Edwards, who sped around the playground with friends, said he didn't mind the switch. Just so long as recess remains.
"I really don't care, either way," said Nathan, 7. "I like recess. It's the only time in school when you get to run around . . . and play with your friends."
Losing recess isn't an option, principal Michelle Berger said, because the state requires schools to provide daily physical activity for children. Teachers can use the recess time to meet that mandate, she said.
What's difficult, Berger said, is making a schedule that includes recess while not losing instructional time and ensuring that staff members get time for breaks.
"It sounds pretty simple," Berger said. "But it took some figuring out to make sure the kids in the cafeteria and the kids out at recess would be monitored carefully."
It's also a culture change. National reports from just five years ago indicated that only 5 percent of schools had recess before lunch, with the rest letting kids play afterward.
A growing number of experts, meanwhile, have suggested that flipping the order would lead to increased academic performance for many of the reasons that Quail Hollow has experienced. Students remain active physically, which helps them learn.
They eat better, so there are fewer complaints that keep them from focusing in class. Discipline problems also decline.
"I did it last year and I see a big difference," said Quail Hollow kindergarten teacher Kanin Wynne. "They're calmer after I get them from lunch, unless there are pancakes for lunch. I can get them to sit on the carpet more easily. Usually, when we have recess after lunch, there is usually some sort of issue or problem."
Emily Mark, training and marketing coordinator for the district food services department, said several of the Pasco schools participating in the project have reported similar results.
"The response has been amazing," Mark said.
Pine View Elementary School, for instance, has seen teachers who were not slated to take part in the study change their daily schedules to get in on it, she said. Trinity Oaks Elementary had some teachers try recess before lunch last year, and this year all teachers decided to do it, Mark added.
Cafeteria managers at the 13 schools all have reported having no leftover milk, unlike last year, and more purchases of side dishes with fewer throwaways. Teachers have sent e-mails saying they don't have to work so hard to end "the wiggles" after recess before getting back to learning, because lunch is more subdued.
"It actually improves the learning environment as a whole," Mark said.
The district will collect data all year on disciplinary referrals, clinic visits and milk consumption to determine whether the change continues to have positive effects. If successful, Pasco plans to help the state create training materials to help other schools make the transition.
"It is a simple shift," Mark said. "Any school could do it."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.