New Hyde Park-Garden City Park schools try a novel approach to recess

By Claire Blaha

New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free District schools have started to hold recess before lunch to give students the chance to play, burn off energy, and return to the lunchroom and classroom more focused and calm, according to Superintendent Jennier Morrison.

At an Oct. 21 meeting, Morrison reported the success of this change, a result of a suggestion by the President of the School Board Patricia Rudd and further research.

“When we would have our lunch and we would try to get all of the kids out from the cafeteria to recess, and then line them up, and then get them out, it was really diminishing our time for play,” said Kim LaRegina, principal of New Hyde Park Road School. After Hillside Grade School piloted the program, LaRegina said the program’s success led other schools in the district to follow suit.


 Students in the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free District first play and then eat during recess. Photo courtesy New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free School District

Morrison spoke to the fact that “discipline issues are down, as is the noise volume in the lunchroom, according to our principals and our lunch monitors.” Along with these improvements, Morrison and school principals discussed how there was a calmer lunch period and a reduction of nurse visits. “The kids would usually just try to get out of class and go to the nurse,” said Beth Torreano, principal of Hillside Grade School. “With this, if there are any injuries, they’re going to happen in the first half of the lunch period, and then they will get taken care of at that point.”

Torreano and LaRegina both discussed the improvement in behavioral issues and conflict resolution skills. “The last couple of years, the teachers have been dealing with a lot of skirmishes between students in the classroom, and now that doesn’t happen anymore because they either hashed it out during their lunch period, or they actually realize that it’s not that big of a deal,” Torreano said.

While the students are learning how to work out their problems on their own, they are also getting more time to play because of the smoother transitions between recess and lunch, according to LaRegina. “The transition is less, they get to play the entire time, and then the benefits of really calming down, sitting down, eating their lunch and having the opportunity to work out their issues.”

These changes have also brought along more unexpected, but still positive results that school officials reported, including fewer items left in the lost-and-found because they are now being picked up by lunch monitors and brought to the lunchroom, and a reduction in wasted food. Morrison said lunch monitors noticed the decreased amount of food waste because students were coming in from running around all of recess, and they were hungry so they finished all of their food.

So far, no school officials have discovered any disadvantages, but changes did need to be made in order to prepare for the switching of recess and lunch. Torreano said that hand sanitizers were installed in the lunchroom, and students must turn in their lunches in the morning so that they don’t take them out at recess and forget to bring them back in. Students also eat 20 minutes later than they used to.

“The big focus was the amount of play, conflict-resolution skills and the ability to really enjoy their lunch with peers because we were hoping that that would increase appetite, which it seems to have happened,”LaRegina said.