get out and play

A parent, like others before her, is pushing for cold-weather play

A child at play
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
A child at play. Photo by ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/admiretime/##admiretime##, via Flickr

An Upper West Side mom and education researcher is arguing that her son and his classmates need an active, outdoor recess — even when it’s very cold outside.

Anne Feighery said she noticed that her second-grade son was coming home grumpy every day from PS 166 this winter. Feighery, who is an education researcher and doctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Teachers College, told me she identified the reason for her son’s bad mood when she realized that he hadn’t been outside to play in days because PS 166 keeps students indoors for recess when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Feighery said the indoor recess PS 166 offered instead was inadequate to meet children’s needs. During a 6-week span when he didn’t go outside this winter, her 8-year-old son got hurt during indoor playtime as his fellow students’ pent-up energy turned indoor games violent, she said.

“We began talking about it with other friends who have children in other schools and a lot of people have this problem—it wasn’t unique to us,” Feighery said. (The debate is definitely not new: A Yonkers teacher complained in the New York Times in 2003 of “a new layer of fat” parents might find hanging off their children each spring due to skipped winter recesses.)

So she wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein that she posted on her blog, asking that the Department of Education exercise greater oversight on schools’ recess, and she launched a Facebook group to lobby for changes.

“Right now because it’s left up to each school, days and days go by and no one’s keeping track of it, there’s no accountability,” Feighery said. Individual principals decide when the weather is too cold for recess, a DOE spokesman confirmed.

Feighery told me recess is a “far-reaching” practice that can cut down on childhood obesity, help children learn through play, and improve student behavior. But schools face the challenge of fitting in time for recess in an already packed schedule. In the winter, they must also consider safety concerns about icy play areas and some parents’ worries that playing outside in the cold will make their children sick. 

A recent study we wrote about before by the Alliance for Childhood reports that unstructured play in kindergarten makes for better-balanced adults who do not lag behind their more structured peers academically even though they spent less time studying in kindergarten. And New York State’s Healthy Schools Act, passed in 2007, requires schools to provide students in 8th grade and under with a recess period of up to 30 minutes a day when there is no physical education class.

A DOE spokesman declined to comment on the DOE’s position on recess, but back in February, commenting on a 2008 study by then-Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión’s office that found that about 90 percent of Bronx public schools don’t comply with the state’s physical activity requirement, a DOE spokeswoman said the department was working to improve physical education offerings.

“We share Borough President Carrión’s concerns, and that’s why we have worked hard over the past five years to improve physical education in New York City schools and give more students access to high quality programs,” DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg wrote to a Bronx community newspaper at the time.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.