A measure being considered for a third time by New Jersey lawmakers would require public school districts to provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

State Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, is a co-sponsor of the bill, which she first introduced in 2009. She says she was alarmed when she read about the increase in childhood obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

She says children today do not go outside and play like they did years ago. They sit in front of the TV, play video games or have their noses in their cell phones. Turner said that if children do not get recess in school they're not going to get it at home, especially in urban areas.

"Because when kids come home from school and also on the weekends, chances are they're not going to go outside because their parents are fearful that something is going to happen in the way of a shooting or drug abuse, " says Turner.

Joanne Doherty, of the New Jersey Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, says research shows that academics benefit from recess and physical activity.

Elise Ahn, of the New Jersey Parent Teacher Association, says parents know kids need to get up and move around. Even a minimum-wage worker is given a 15-minute break every four hours.

Another supporter of the bill is Marybeth Beichert, with the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. She says recess is the only time that students get to be themselves and play and be free.

"Students need unstructured time to become well advanced in academics, social and emotional behaviors in an otherwise very structured world that they sit in every single day," she said last month during a Senate Education Committee hearing.

Christina Morera, a parent of two children in the Elizabeth school district, says recess is a necessary break in a child's day. Having a mandated 20 minutes of unstructured free time is essential to children's mental health.

State Sen. Samuel Thompson, R-Middlesex, supports the bill but is concerned about how the schools will accommodate 20 minutes of daily recess. Will the schools have to lengthen the school day? Lawmakers say it depends on the administration and the school district.

Freehold Borough schools Superintendent Rocco Tomazic says he has no problem with recess being a requirement. In fact, he says Freehold already has 15 minutes of recess so adding five more minutes is not a big deal. But his concern is that recess time cannot count toward 150 minutes of health and physical education requirements.

Tomazic said if recess cannot be included in gym time, school districts would need a year or two to make the necessary adjustments.


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