Under a new pilot program, several Anchorage elementary schools will have longer lunch and recess next fall

Anchorage students eating during a “silent lunch.” (Screen grab of a Health, Wellness, Nutrition, and Student Learning Ad Hoc committee presentation via Kelly Lessens)

Over 6,000 people think that Anchorage elementary students don’t have enough time for lunch and physical activity. They’ve signed a petition asking the school district to revise how much time students have to finish their meals and exercise.

“Thirty minutes for lunch, and 20 minutes seated is what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends,” said Carey Carpenter, one of the organizers of ASD60, the group that organized the petition.

The Anchorage School Board formed a Health, Wellness, Nutrition, and Student Learning Ad Hoc committee to address the group’s concerns. The committee researched how school districts elsewhere were handling lunch and recess times.

Some might find cutting in-class learning time in favor of longer recesses and lunches counterproductive to giving students the best possible education. But fellow ASD60 organizer Kelly Lessens says research shows that increased exercise helps create better learning environments.

“Over the past few years, more and more schools are realizing that kids need better foundations to learn and that you have to have a chance to get those wiggles out,” Lessens said.

At Monday’s school board meeting, the committee presented its plans for a pilot program where several elementary schools would follow a new schedule with 30 minutes a day for recess and 30 minutes for lunch.

Deputy Superintendent Mark Stock is on the committee and will help choose which schools will be part of the program. He says the committee wants a diverse spectrum of schools to participate.

“So, we put out a call to our elementary principals and asked, ‘How many of you would like to try working through a schedule at your site that would allow you to be part of a pilot?'” Stock said. “At last glance we had up to 15 principals express an interest in participating and they come from a wide variety of schools.”

Stock says about eight to 10 schools will be selected for the pilot. During that time, the district will document student outcomes, as well as how schools are adjusting to the new schedule. The results will be evaluated in December. Stock says that the district will work with each school to adjust their schedules individually while meeting the new minimum time requirements of the pilot.

“We’re certainly not going to eliminate an entire subject, but hopefully we can shave off some of those time blocks a little bit from everything and see how that plays out over the course of a year,” Stock said.

Ultimately, using lessons learned from the pilot program, the committee aims to ask the school board to adopt the new lunch and recess schedule district-wide. Lessens says this could happen starting in Fall 2020.

“We know that ASD values evidence-based decision making, data-driven decision making,” Lessens said. “We know that leadership says when you know better, you do better. And right now, we’re saying we do know better. We think we can do better.”

The district will select the schools that will be part of the pilot program in June.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.