Weighing the decision on state’s wellness policy | NevadaAppeal.com
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Weighing the decision on state’s wellness policy

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Seeliger Elementary School student Destinee Gieke, 8, plays on a slide during after-lunch recess with her classmates. The district plans to seek a year-long exemption with the Nevada Department of Education regarding the state's wellness policy, which requires school districts hold midday recess before lunch, instead of afterward. Proponents say research indicates that recess before lunch results in better performances by children in the afternoon.
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Fremont Elementary School administrators found no credence in the state’s wellness policy that well-fed students produce eager minds.

All they found was a mess in the cafeteria.

Now the school district is planning to seek a one-year exemption from the policy that requires midday recess be held before lunch instead of afterward.

The school board votes tonight on the policy, which includes restrictions that no soda and caffeine products be sold in schools. Fremont tried to be proactive and implement the recess portion of the policy at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year.

“Because we have a large number of students that eat lunch served through our cafeteria, they had a hard time getting through the line and getting served with enough time to finish their meal and get back to class before the bell rang,” said Fremont Vice Principal Nancy Cauley.

Younger students who sometimes forgot their Personal Identification codes exacerbated the problem. More than half of the 617 students at Fremont eat lunch provided to them through the cafeteria.

That’s a far larger number than at a Douglas County school that successfully implemented the recess-before-lunch policy, Cauley explained

“No matter what we tried to manipulate, we ran into a lot more challenges than we expected,” she said. “We just realized, you know what, this is not in the best interest of our kids. We need to revert back to the original schedule, which is eat first and then play.”

The recess-before-lunch requirement is based on research that shows that students who eat after recess will eat more of their meal and be “cooled-off” returning to the classroom.

“They are better able to focus on their studies in the afternoon,” said Donnell Barton, director of the office of child nutrition and school health for the Nevada Department of Education.

All of Nevada’s 17 school districts must adopt a wellness policy by the end of June, but the policy allows for exemptions on the recess portion for up to two years if the school explains the difficulty. Before-lunch recess must be implemented by the 2008-09 school year.

The state wellness policy also requires 30-minutes of daily activity for elementary, middle and high school students. Passing time between classes counts toward activity time. At Eagle Valley and Carson middle schools students have five minutes to pass between seven different periods.

Physical education classes also count toward activity time. All of the district’s elementary students take physical education once a week. Although not required for middle school students, a physical-education class is offered every year in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

According to Bonnie Eastwood, nutrition services manager for the district, Carson City schools need more time to figure out both how to implement recess before lunch and meet the 30-minute activity level.

The problem is scheduling, she said.

“It’s trying to move classes around to satisfy all the teaching staff and make sure all the programs get in,” she said.

Lee Conley, principal at Seeliger Elementary School, thinks the decision to seek a one-year exemption is a good one.

“‘Thank goodness,” said Conley, a former physical education teacher. “I understand that kids do need to be healthier and get more activity. I don’t think (recess before lunch) is the best way for it. If the kids go out for activity before lunch and lunch is a little slow that day, we’ll have to rush the kids through lunch.”

Seeliger students are given a 15-minute early morning recess and a 15-minute recess following lunch. Seeliger had a 30-minute recess after lunch last year, but Conley found the longer break created discipline problems.

“Kids need a chance to blow off steam and be goofy with their friends,” he said. “I think they need a 15-minute break in the morning and a 15-minute break after lunch.”

If you go

What: Carson City School Board of Trustees meeting

When: 7 tonight

Where: Sierra Room of the Community Center, 851 E. William St.

Information: 283-2100

What’s happening

• All of Nevada’s 17 school districts must adopt a wellness policy by the end of June. The policy allows for exemptions on the recess portion for up to two years if the school explains the difficulty. Before-lunch recess must be implemented by the 2008-09 school year.

• School officials are planning to seek a one-year exemption from the policy segment that requires midday recess be held before lunch instead of afterward, saying the district needs time to adjust school schedules.

• The Carson City School Board is expected to vote on the district’s wellness policy tonight.

• Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.