The entire Todd Elementary community – teachers, lunch monitors and students – are working towards building a better recess.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Briarcliff Manor Education Foundation, the school recently hired Playworks, an organization that creates a better recess experience by helping navigate conflict resolution, building students’ leadership skills and, ultimately, enhancing students’ academic success.
At the start of the program, Illiana Familia, a program specialist for Playworks, visited the school and provided training for all Teaching Assistants and lunch monitors. In the training, staff learned new games that they could play with students at both indoor and outdoor recess. They also learned group management and conflict resolution.
“We want to focus on students’ development of social skills, while having a safe, organized and active playground,” Familia said. “We want the students to have strong social-emotional skills and for them to be engaged and have a supporting environment at school.”
After the training, Familia joined students in their indoor and outdoor recess to teach them the games and assist with conflict resolution strategies. She spent several days teaching them games such as “Cookie Monster,” “Switch,” and “Bob the Bunny.”
“Younger students in grades K-2 are not as competitive as older ones, so they tend to not get into a lot of conflicts,” Familia said. “Students in grades 3-5 can sometimes have conflicts and my job is to work with each grade level and know what they need.”
The main tool Familia uses for conflict resolution is the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game or “Rochambeau,” as it is called at Playworks.
Another tool to de-escalate conflict is utilizing “junior coaches.”
“Todd teachers selected students in grades 3-5 who have shown leadership skills and we will utilize those students to de-escalate conflicts,” Familia said. “These students know their peers, so they are a natural fit for the role, and students generally are more likely to listen to them than they are to listen to an adult.”
According to Familia, it helps to have a variety of different personalities among junior coaches.
“We have strong personalities and quiet, shy students, and they are all leaders in their own way,” she said. “The students who were selected were ones who can control a large group, but they do it in different ways. We utilize the energy of the junior coaches to empower them and to provide them with the right role.”
A junior coach with a big personality can get students’ attention, and then he or she can explain rules of a game, Familia says.
“Another junior coach, who might be quieter, can de-escalate a conflict simply by being neutral. Yet another student, who might be shy, might be very good at modeling how to play. So by observing those students, I can pick up on their strengths and utilize them for the benefit of everyone.”
“The junior coaches are here to make recess even better, teach new games, new ways to line up, what to do if we have a conflict, or what to do if students don’t know what to play at recess,” Assistant Principal Annemarie Foley told fifth graders at lunch.
As part of the Playworks program, Familia provided training to the 15 Todd students who were selected to be junior coaches.
“You have a unique opportunity: you were chosen by your teachers as leaders and have skills and abilities to help others make the right choices,” Foley told the junior coaches. “We will learn today how to use those skills to make recess a better experience for everyone. We want to ensure that you can continue this for the rest of your time at Todd, so it’s important that you take this job seriously, and that you can support the other students at Todd.”
Familia taught the junior coaches the new games, as well as some de-escalating strategies.
When she leaves Todd at the week’s end, Foley will take over.
“We will meet throughout the year to learn some skills to problem-solve situations,” Foley told the junior coaches.
Familia is confident that the junior coaches program will be a success after her week at the school ends.
“I’m really big on empowering adults and students,” Familia said. “I think we are all born to be leaders. We all have our own strengths.”
Teachers and staff appreciated the training.
“We learned some useful games for downtime and indoor recess and also for outdoors,” said fifth grade Teaching Assistant Rhonda Nolan.
Lunch monitor Maria Smiley agreed.
“It was interesting to learn some new games and to see other people’s approach to recess, to see how to make it more fun for the students,” she said. “The students always know what’s fun to play but as adults, there’s only so many tricks up our sleeves, so it was very helpful to learn new things and it was also a fun experience for me.”
Foley, who came up with the idea to hire Playworks, is pleased with the work that has been done thus far.
“We are excited to continue this partnership and work throughout the school year so that recess continues to evolve,” she said. “We are thankful for the support of BMEF with this program.”
According to Foley, recess is one of the highlights of the school day for many students but when conflicts arise, those conflicts can impact the classroom, so it is important to continue to find ways to resolve them.
“Our goal this week is to continue to build a positive school culture where kids have choices, structures are in place and students become empowered,” she said. “We are thrilled to have Illiana facilitate all this and I am looking forward to seeing our junior coaches act as leaders at recess supporting their peers with conflict resolution skills.”