Principal Chris Lineberry: Recess is his favorite subject

Chris Lineberry holds his new book. He is surrounded by students at Stanfield Elementary School.

Do you ever think about how much recess time your child is getting?

Does your student’s school have set guidelines?

It’s something Stanfield Elementary School Principal Chris Lineberry thinks about a lot. This year, he co-authored the book, “Recess Was My Favorite Subject…Where Did It Go?” and watched with interest this past legislative season as Arizona lawmakers debated a bill that would have mandated 50 minutes of recess each day at public schools. (House Bill 2082 died in the Senate, but a similar bill likely will be back next year, says Heidi Vega, director of communications for the Arizona School Boards Association.)

Currently, each school district or charter school determines its own recess policy. Some have limited recess time to 20 minutes or less; others have eliminated recess entirely. Cutting recess in favor of more classroom time is one result of the pressure on schools to improve standardized test scores.

Addressing the physical side of education has been a personal cause for Lineberry ever since he had a health scare of his own in 2007, when he was a principal in North Carolina. “I left my school on a stretcher after that heart attack,” he says. “I was 36.”

Lineberry blamed stress for his health problems. When he got back to the job, he looked around and realized many students also were dealing with high levels of stress.

It was time for change: better nutrition in the cafeteria, more P.E. time and one hour of recess for every student each day that could not be taken away as discipline.

“We saw dramatic changes, including physical improvement and three years of academic growth in a two-year time period,” says Lineberry, now 46.

Students exercising at Stanfield’s new fitness center.

He brought those ideas with him to Stanfield Elementary, a Title I school near Casa Grande, and they’ve paid off. His teachers get to decide when it’s time for their students to get recess — at least 30 minutes daily — and his school has a garden to provide healthy food for the cafeteria, where 97 percent of his students eat free. Stanfield also has daily P.E. classes, and teachers incorporate movement into the curriculum to get students out of their desks.

All that emphasis on physical activity earned Stanfield Elementary a 2016 grant from the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, which provided $100,000 for Stanfield’s new fitness center. “The [center’s] machines are specifically designed for kids grades four and up, so we are able to address the needs of both children and adults on our campus and in our community,” he says.

Members of the community can pay $10 per year to use the facility, because Lineberry believes the health needs of the community are just as important.

“What I can tell you is: I have happier, healthier kids; our absenteeism has decreased; behavior issues have decreased and academic performance has improved,” he says.


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