A week in Indianapolis

  1. Updates

Playworks debuted in Indianapolis in May, 2013, with “Recess Roll-Out,” with seven coaches placed full time in seven schools to demonstrate how Playworks could begin to make an impact in just one week. Here’s a look at the experience through the eyes Coach Kristen, who spent her week at IPS 51.


During the 3rd grade recess I had a large game of soccer set up with three different teams playing. As I rotated through all the games I noticed one kid named Aaron getting involved in a couple conflicts. I spoke with him each time explaining to him the expectations and inquiring if there were any issues he would like to discuss with me. He demonstrated that he understood and was willing to play respectfully.

After recess I saw Aaron looking frustrated. I pulled him to the side and asked what was wrong, he replied “I didn’t get to play anything because I’m not good at anything.” I reminded him that he played soccer the entire time and he did a fantastic job. He continued to tell me that his dad “always tells him he sucks at everything except for baseball.” In disbelief, I told him “Coach knows for a fact that you are awesome at tons of things – especially at recess.”

We then walked over to the four square court and played a couple rounds, finishing at the top spot. As I looked up at him to give him more positive encouragement, he was wearing a huge smile and gave me a double high five and said “maybe my dad was wrong after all.”


Today, I had the opportunity of selecting a few upper grade students to serve as junior coaches. I spoke with one of the 6th grade teachers to discuss some possible candidates in her class. I mentioned a couple of students that stuck out to me and she recommended a few herself. After a solid list I asked for one student who was quiet and reserved that could benefit from this experience, she then brought up Derrick.

I told her “Great, I would love to have him come out as well.” Later that day, I ran into the same teacher and she said that all of her students were excited to start but Derrick said he didn’t want to do it. I asked her if it was ok if I talked to Derrick just to explain in further detail what he would be doing and she said “absolutely.”

When I got Derrick from class I could see it on his face that he didn’t want to have the conversation at all. I told him at the very beginning of the conversation that I just wanted to let him know what being a junior coach entailed and if he still didn’t want to do it that was perfectly fine too. After giving Derrick more insight of what the junior coaches do I asked if that was something he would like to try, he replied with a nonchalant “yeah”. Finally it was time for the recess in which the Junior Coaches are on duty. I observed each JC at their station and checked in with them periodically. I noticed that Derrick was completely engaged. At the end of recess the junior coaches and I discussed how they felt about their first day on duty. All of them including Derrick were telling me how much fun they had and how they couldn’t wait to do it again. I spoke with the teacher again and she was pleased at the glimpse of growth the junior coach program can give students throughout a school year.


Starting at a school that has never had Playworks is fun and exciting. As a coach you are automatically popular with the students who consider you a rockstar. Teachers on the other hand are not always the biggest fans initially. Some are reserve and unsure of what our role is as program coordinators, while others are completely closed to the idea of Playworks.

I realized the latter was the case with one of my teachers as I attempted to schedule a time to meet with his class for class game time. After finally getting them a slot on my schedule I knew I had thirty minutes to demonstrate how beneficial this program could be for his students. The class game time began and his class was enthusiastic and ready to play any game that I taught them. I looked over to the side and where he stood, arms crossed and looking totally uninterested. After the icebreaker game, we played a fun tag game that had all the students involved and laughing as they tried to escape the people who were “it”. I peeked over at the teacher again, this time his arms were down and he appeared to have a small grin on his face. By the third and fourth game, the teacher was engaged and actually participating with his students.

By the sweat on his forehead and the smile on his face, I can confidently say he had a great time not only seeing his students working together inclusively but also participating in the experience alongside them.


I especially enjoy class game times (CGT) because it provides an opportunity for me to meet with classes individually while building relationships with students whom I may not interact with much during recess periods. Or in this case reach students in classes who do not have recess at all. At this school, the sixth graders do not have recess, so this was a unique chance to expose them to the “power of play.”

We were halfway through the class and I noticed that one girl would intentionally find a way to be minimally involved in the games. There was one game left in the lesson plan called RoShamBo Rock Star. Basically everyone is on their own team playing various people in RoShamBo the successful person continues to float around finding people to play while the unsuccessful people become “fans” (cheering heavily for the successful player) of the person they just played against. Eventually two people will end up playing against each other with a large group of “fans” behind them.

At this point of the game, during the CGT the same girl who was not involved much in the games previously, was one of the last two standing. One final round of RoShamBo and she was successful! The entire class was chanting her name and giving her high fives full of excitement. Her face lit up and she couldn’t stop laughing. At the end of the CGT as they were transitioning back into the classroom, I asked her why didn’t she play more in the other games. She replied, “I didn’t think I was good at anything but now that I’m a rockstar, I guess I can’t say that anymore.”


As recess roll out ends I reflect on the differences we have made in our respective schools in such a short time. In a week we have taught students, teachers, and possibly parents new games, conflict resolution strategies, and insight on how learning can occur in other areas outside of the classroom.

As program coordinator also known as “coach” I sometimes forget the influence we have on our students. After my last recess of the week was over, I started cleaning up my equipment and a girl comes over to me handing me a cone. I said thank you so much for helping me. She says you’re welcome and thank you for being a very good teacher. Her brief acknowledgement of appreciation was powerful to me. She did not refer to me as “coach” but as a teacher. That demonstrates a different kind of value placed on our program we implement in schools everyday.

Of course we want our students to have fun, be physically active, and interact with peers respectfully. But just as importantly we strive to instill values, empower them to be leaders, and help them attain skills that can be utilized throughout life. Despite the abbreviated jam packed week we have spent at these Indianapolis schools, I believe we have done our jobs successfully by demonstrating to many administrators and teachers alike that they are not investing in a “coach” but a unique type of teacher whose curriculum is vital to the development of their children.

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