Hudson asks: What’s playing at recess… and why?

HUDSON–Heated arguments about children watching television in school dominated the Hudson City School District Board of Education meeting Thursday, February 12.

Despite short notice of a date change because of weather, more people than usual attended this meeting. Steven Spicer, principal of John L. Edwards Primary School (JLE) delivered an impassioned statement urging the board to keep allowing teachers and aides to play TV programs for their charges. But several parents, equally forcefully, favored restricting not only the content but also the amount of school time spent watching TV. The board is writing a district-wide policy on “Audio-Visual & Media Use.”

“I implore the board not to take away an activity the children enjoy,” Mr. Spicer said. Reasons he gave included:

  • A Seattle Children’s Hospital study that shows “educational videos increase imagination”
  • Many “economically disadvantaged children” don’t watch “educational TV” at home. Showing “educational videos” at school “reaches” these children
  • 96% of parents surveyed answered Yes to the question “Do you want school to show your children educational videos?”

But parent and substitute teacher Linda Hopkins said that kids already watch lots of TV outside of school. “Do we want them to watch it more? Each hour of TV watching a week leads to a drop in test scores. The Academy of Pediatrics has declared that mainstream video programming makes children less likely to pay attention and more prone to violence,” she said.

“Watching movies is not good educational policy,” added Julia Wilson. “There’s an obesity epidemic. Kids who watch more TV are more likely to drop out,” which is contrary to the district’s Destination Graduation goals, she said.

“My kid has snow clothes, and she rolls around in the snow,” said Thomas Stinson of Hudson. But “I would rather have her in a club than sit in a crowded room watching a video.”

“Videos should be tools, not crutches,” said board member Maria McLaughlin. “And in most cases they are.” But a few exceptions have been “brought to my attention by parents,” she said.

While touching on all grades, most of the discussion involved the primary school recess. In weather deemed unacceptable for outdoor recess, some participants suggested alternates to watching video, and some expressed concerns about time, space, staffing, safety and winter clothes.

Board Vice President Tiffany Hamilton suggested Lego kits as an alternative activity. District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier suggested board games. Mr. Stinson advocated allowing students to play in the gym.

But an aide at JLE noted that that school has only one gym and it is used for classes and the Head Start program during recess. Also, JLE’s rooms are all occupied. As for Legos, she said the aides couldn’t help all the kids and Mr. Spicer said that board games have potentially hazardous pieces and require adult supervision to address disputes.

“Videos are all we have!,” Mr. Spicer declared. “There is no board game program. There is no program to bring kids to the gym. You can’t take away videos without something else in their place.”

But Mr. Stinson said that “100 kids crammed into a small room to watch a video is in itself a safety hazard.” said Mr. Stinson.

Ms. Hopkins asked whether the district has a recess curriculum.

“We all agree that children should be moving more,” Mr. Spicer said. “Nobody wants them sitting there watching TV. We when the temperature goes above 21 degrees, we send them outside.”

Mr. Spicer also explained that the teachers’ contract includes a 40-minute break. That gives children 20 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for recess. The principal said that limits the time available to about 10 minutes to play a board game.

JLE has nine aides. “Many aids have two classes, each with 20 to 25 children,” said Mr. Spicer. “It’s a supervision issue.”

“Can’t you have volunteers?” asked Mr. Stinson. “I’d volunteer to monitor kids so that my kid isn’t watching ‘Frozen.’”

Mr. Spicer said he prefers paid employees, indicating he cannot rely on volunteers to show up.

Ms. Hamilton inquired about using Americorps volunteers.

Mr. Spicer said that many children come to school without proper outside winter clothes, despite reminders sent to parents to supply them.

As for the content of the video programming, Mr. Spicer noted that since January all the videos shown during recess have been “PBS educational.” Last month the school stopped showing “non-educational videos.”

“Teachers want us to know that most of their video clips are related to their subjects,” Superintendent Suttmeier said.

But Ms. Hopkins said students are watching commercial movies and children have reported being shown films rated PG films.

Ms. O’Connor praised exercise videos as “really great.”

But Principal Spicer observed that when the school showed movement videos last year, “the children began stepping on and hitting each other.” And it was parents who said there isn’t room for exercise videos.

Ms. Hopkins said that “a group of parents” has been working on this issue for over a year.

The current proposal disallows “video and media clips shown… for entertainment or as a reward” and allows children to opt out of videos more than 20 minutes long. Board Member Sage Carter, a professional video designer, said the reason the board is considering this policy is that for years the videos “weren’t educational.”

She and Ms. Hamilton noted that the survey had nothing on it to make parents aware of alternatives to videos.

And Ms. Hopkins lamented that the “damage” is already done. “Why are subjecting our children to this?”

The next Hudson City School Board meeting will take place Monday, February 23 at 7 p.m. at the Hudson High School, following a 6 p.m. public hearing at the same location about school tax breaks for veterans.

 

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