An Evaluation of the Playworks Relay Program in Aurora Public Schools

  • Playworks
  • April 17, 2024

Megan B. Stellino, EdD and William V. Massey, PhD

Researchers have established evidence that recess provides cognitive and academic benefits, social and emotional benefits, and physical benefits to children during the school day. Over the past two decades, Playworks has been instrumental in working with schools to actualize these benefits, with study findings that show support for the effectiveness of Playworks, or indirectly
maintaining Playworks mission by confirming the benefits of a high-quality recess. The purpose of this evaluation was to investigate/explore the impact of the Playworks Relay Program in Aurora Public Schools (Colorado), as well as examine factors that can enhance the program’s fidelity and favorable impact. The Playworks Relay model provides comprehensive support delivered by a trained Playworks Site Specialist on site up to 10 days per month who implements strategies, games, and systems to develop and sustain a positive recess culture.

Key Findings

1. Children reported feeling significantly lower levels of feeling unwelcome at recess based on race, religion, disability, family income, first language, school performance, hobbies, and appearance across the four time periods. At the end of the school year, the odds of feeling unwelcome at recess were 40% lower than at the beginning of the year.

2. Increases in adult support decreased the odds of feeling unwelcome at recess. Higher perceptions of adult support lowered the odds of feeling unwelcome by 25%.

3. There were small, but significant positive changes in positive affect, negative affect, belonging, victimization, and attraction to physical activity.

4. The children who struggled the most at the beginning of the year saw the most benefit. The largest changes across the school year came from children who scored below the scale mid-points at baseline. These changes were observed for improvements in positive affect, negative affect, belongingness, victimization, adult support, psychological needs satisfaction, and attraction the physical activity.

5. Girls and gender non-conforming students were at the highest risk of feeling uncomfortable at recess. Across the school year being a girl or not conforming to a gender binary increased the odds of feeling unwelcome at recess by 29% and 43% respectively. However, girls and gender non-conforming students and reported significant improvements in negative affect and victimization across the school year that were not observed in boys.

6. Students who identified as racial minorities saw significant improvements in belonging across the school year. Belonging remained constant across the four time points for White identifying students.

7. Students articulated their thoughts on Playworks and what they would do if they were the “President” of Playworks. Students voiced that they want their interests amplified, increased supervision with respect for fairness and simultaneous freedom to “let kids ‘Be’” and “More…” of many aspects of recess including interaction and engagement with adults, variety of games/activities, and greater inclusion for all.

8. School principals reported the need for additional training of school staff by Playworks to ensure the Relay program is successful. Principals noted that if the Playworks staff is not at the school fulltime, more is needed to ensure consistency in the program, and cross-training of staff. They also noted the need for Playworks coaches to be both independent, as well as integrate into the school system, and the importance of buy-in across multiple stakeholders in the school community.

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