Prineville's elementary schools move away from witholding recess as punishment

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Elementary schools are offering the option of exercise as discipline.

A discussion emerged entering the current school year concerning how to discipline elementary school students without sacrificing physical activity in the process.

The main talking point was whether or not the schools should withhold recess time and keep children inside the classroom for certain offenses. On the one hand, it makes a powerful deterrent given how much value kids put on their recess time. However, taking that time away, it is believed, could compromise the quality of education the child is receiving.

So this year, Barnes Butte and Crooked River elementary schools are trying something different, and the move involves giving kids a choice in how they pay consequences for poor behavior. Instead of just sitting out a recess exclusively, they can choose instead to walk or run laps for the duration of the recess.

"Oftentimes, if they have late work or extra work, they are allowed to stay in if that's their choice," explained Crooked River Elementary Principal Cheri Rasmussen. "Otherwise, they go out and they walk."

Rasmussen agrees with the direction the schools have taken with the new discipline model.

"Kids need their fresh air and kids need their exercise," she said. "It is researched, it is (supported by) statistical (data) and it is really just common sense that everybody needs to get up and move — kids or adults. It helps release endorphins in your head so that you think more clearly and can stay more focused."

Jim Bates, principal at Barnes Butte Elementary, has likewise embraced the new method, saying the schools are "experimenting with offering the ability to still exercise" and "taking a big step forward with providing students some choice and ownership over their choices."

"We have heard the call and read the research and appreciated our (school) board's interest in the topic," he added. "We recognize that exercise is still a really important part of a student's day."

The option to sit inside or at an outdoor time-out bench has produced favorable results so far, and to neither Rasmussen's nor Bates' surprise, most kids prefer to walk or run. And while the student is given a choice, the walk/run option has still managed to deter poor behavior. Bates has found that students much prefer having "full range of the playground."

The new discipline model combines with a range of discipline options, depending on the severity of the offense. Both schools also levy minor referrals for lower-level offenses or repeated poor decisions, which might result in the loss of one or more full recess. Major referrals, on the other hand, are reserved for something that is "detrimental to another student, or vandalism or something that is quite serious," Rasmussen explains, "whether it is fighting or what have you."

Major referrals punishments can result in in-school suspension time, ranging from a couple hours or a full day or longer.

"It depends on how many times a student has had an offense and the severity," Bates said. "We look at every problem individually."

However, the elementary schools make a point of keeping students in school and learning.

"That student will have all of their work brought to a specific room that is covered by one of our wonderful (education assistants)," Rasmussen explained. "They will sit and do their school work all day long and obviously have their breaks."

Mixed with the disciplinary measures, the schools work to cultivate a culture that will reduce the amount of poor choices that students might make that warrant punitive actions.

"Our goal, first and foremost, is to focus on building positive relationships and emphasizing positive problem-solving skills," Bates said. "We try to focus on the language around positive relationships and kindness as a baseline to reduce the number of referrals, and we have been very successful with that with our school counselor."

So far, the effort has hit the mark. Bates said that during the past three years at Barnes Butte, he has seen referrals drop from two per day to just a bit more than one daily.

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