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MOUNT VERNON — Parents and community members within Wiggin Street elementary school again raised concerns and put pressure on the board regarding changes to the school’s time schedule for recess, art, music and physical education classes at Monday evening’s Mount Vernon City Schools board of education meeting.
The changes, which were addressed initially at the August board meeting, removed an afternoon recess session for second- through fifth-grade, leaving it only for Kindergarten students and first-grade; as well as shortened times for the “specials” classes: Art, music and physical education, from 50 minutes a week to 40 minutes a week, in order to devote time to a technology class.
Jeffrey Williams addressed the board and explained that Wiggin Street Principal Matthew Dill has been very willing to talk with parents and hear concerns, but he still does not have an answer as to why these changes were implemented in the first place.
“My personal question for him with these changes that have happened is really why?” Williams asked the board. “The changes that were made in reference to the specials are really staunchly contradictory to education research right now. All education research says the opposite to the changes that are happening, so if there is a good reason, if there is a research-based reason for these changes, that’s fine, but what is it? That’s been my question and I still haven’t gotten that answer.”
Based on concerns raised by parents, Williams said that Dill has increased the time allotted for specials by five minutes, giving each class 45 minutes a week, as opposed to the altered time of 40 minutes per week. Williams encouraged the board to make sure that the changes that are made to programming in schools are based on solid research and to act as advocates for parents to be able to ask those questions.
Kenyon College language program coordinator and assistant professor of French Mary Kathryn Malone addressed the board regarding the Ohio Department of Education’s “whole child” strategic plan for education, which aims to take the focus away from standardized testing, and put more of an emphasis on students’ abilities to learn in many different ways, as a counter to the programming changes at Wiggin Street.
“Children who need to move are so distracted by their requirement to sit on task for what are now three-hour long and two-and-a-half hour long afternoon sessions of time that they cannot focus on their task. The amount of recess time our developing and learning children are currently getting during the school day is equivalent to the amount of break time mandated by OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] for working adults. Let that sink in. More alarmingly, it is less than the amount of time allowed for most prisoners. Dr. Dill said to me, ‘I am not running a daycare.’ Well let me say, nor is he running a prison for our children.”
Wiggin Street has historically come close to the recommended amount of time for recess, Malone said to the board, and has been, not coincidentally, among one of the highest performing schools in the district. She asked the board how they can justify 33 percent cuts to recess time this year and what outcomes could there be? She believes increased distractibility and decreased productivity in class are inevitable.
Malone asked the board for commitment to 50 minutes of school-day recess, ideally district-wide, to support the “whole child” approach.
“This is a question of mental health, social justice and civil rights for your most vulnerable students.”
Jami Ingledue, a parent and small business owner from Wiggin Street, began a conversation on developmentally inappropriate tasks and tests; specifically, a district-wide learning target, which has Kindergarten students composing 2-3 sentences on their Chromebooks. She questioned whether the board thought that task was developmentally appropriate for a kindergartner, when they are still learning to read.
Developmental Psychologist and Wiggin Street parent Dr. Andrea White told the board the American Society of Pediatrics now prescribing play to their patients.
“We’re all picking up where school has dropped the ball, making sure our kids get their two-hours of physical activity in,” White said. “Two hours is recommended, with one hour coming from school, we’re not getting that. We’re only getting 30 minutes of physical activity, 45 minutes on days they have gym. But it’s not equaling what is recommended for good development.”
White explained that students need to move and they often cannot learn very well while sitting still.
The board thanked the parents for their comments and their willingness to talk to Dill. Superintendent Bill Seder addressed the concerns and explained, to Williams’s comments, that he doubts whether Dill acted based on research when implementing the changes. Seder believes that the changes were carried over to Wiggin Street from Dill’s tenure at Columbia Elementary school.
“Pointedly, I think there is no research for that,” Williams said. “There is no research behind, but my question is then what is the reason? I understand that these were strategies employed at Columbia. Wiggin Street has had the highest test scores in the district for a long time. So, what is the desired outcome? What’s the purpose? What’s the point? It’s just the lack of any answers to those questions.”
Seder credited the teachers at all of the schools in the district for their willingness to include play into their lessons, as this gives the students opportunities to be up moving and doing things during the learning process.
Board member Mary Rugola-Dye, explained to the parents that the state requires educators to show growth and these assessments are often a way for them to markedly show growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Echoing her sentiments from the August meeting, Rugola-Dye said sometimes “we have to voice our opinions” but to also give the Wiggin Street administration time with these changes.
However, Malone disagreed with this sentiment, stating, “Some of us are not voicing our opinions, we are speaking as experts in our field of scholarship and it is belittling to tell female scholars that their work is an opinion. I’m asking the board be mindful of that, as that is something else that we have heard in the administration office at Wiggin Street.”