Over 5,000 people have signed a petition, asking for longer lunch and recess in Anchorage elementary schools

Nearly two dozen teachers, parents and community members dominated public testimony at Monday night’s Anchorage School Board meeting, asking the school district to set aside more time for lunch and recess in elementary schools.

More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition asking the district to require no less than 30 minutes a day for lunch and equal time for recess. The proposal was put together by a group called ASD60.

“We make time in our schedules for the things that are important,” said Carey Carpenter, one of the organizers of ASD60. “The health and wellness of our kids is as important as their reading scores, and we need to make time for it.”

Carpenter’s children go to Sand Lake Elementary. She says the school recently shortened their lunch and recess period from an hour to 45 minutes. Last year, the district mandated that all elementary schools must allocate at least 45 minutes to recess and lunch. Two-thirds of the schools in the district had less time before the mandate.

Mark Stock is the deputy superintendent for the district. He says Sand Lake Elementary used to be an outlier, with more time for lunch and recess than other schools.

“So there was a period of several years where they lengthened it from the normal 40-45 minutes to 60,” Stock said. “And then there was a change in principals who looked at it and realized they were an outlier, and realized that with all the pressure and everything going on, he shortened it to be what the district guidelines were.”

ASD60 wants the mandate to be at least an hour.

The group says research from the Centers for Disease Control shows extra time for lunch and recess leads students to engage in healthier lifestyles.

Carpenter’s third grade daughter Anya testified that once you factor in standing in line and cleaning up, lunch is only 13 minutes.

“I need food for energy and I need energy to concentrate at school,” Anya said. “During lunch, kids like me do not eat very fast, so they do not finish their entire lunch, whether they packed it from home or they got the hot lunch.”

Stock says the district agrees that there are lots of benefits to increasing lunch and recess time, but if that were to happen, the time would have to come from somewhere else — most likely, reading class time.

“I know people are saying that the more recess we have, the better students will do in their reading,” Stock said. “That’s only true when you’re also getting the reading as well. You can’t just do physical activity and expect reading skills to go up.”

Stock says he’s happy that there’s a discussion over the benefits of recess and lunch, and that the district is working with the petition advocates to find a solution. At the end of the school board meeting, Board member Mark Foster volunteered to look into the next steps for how to address the concerns of ASD60.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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