More Play, Fewer Suspensions

Burbank Elementary changed the tone at recess by training staff to get in the game

“It was chaos. A lot of kids would get in trouble or get hurt,” said Assistant Principal Peter Wilson, remembering what recess used to be like at Burbank Elementary in Hayward, California. With about 300 kids out on the pavement playground at a time, his school recess had been challenging.

“We have this blue game wall, but the kids didn’t really know what to do so they used it for soccer. They’d have one kid stand against it to play goalie, and everyone else would just pepper him with soccer balls,” he said.

Then Wilson heard about Playworks, which was operating at a nearby school.

Now, part of my job is to play with kids and teach them how to play instead of laying down the law.

Peter Wilson

Principal, Burbank Elementary School

Wilson and a core of around a dozen teachers and playground staff signed up for a Playworks Pro training service that included both monthly trainings and regular consultation visits to identify new areas for growth.

Recess staff can join games as a supervision strategy, making recess safer and more fun.

“We really liked the program but realized we weren’t going to have long-term money to sustain direct service. So we made a strategic decision to do it on our own with training,” said Wilson.

Trainings introduced safe, inclusive rules for familiar recess games; play facilitation skills for adults; and strategies for student-led conflict resolution, along with time for staff to work together on action planning.

For Wilson, the decision to be out in front of the problem made all the difference.

“I’d rather go out and be present outside, active and involved, spending 15 minutes playing every day instead of spending 30-45 minutes suspending a kid,” he said. “Now, part of my job is to play with kids and teach them how to play instead of laying down the law.”

According to Wilson, suspension rates have plummeted.

“My first year, here we lost 178 total suspension days from discipline issues. That’s like a kid a day lost to suspension all year. The next year through addressing issues with staff, it dropped to 118,” he said. 

“Last year, after we added the Playworks training, our suspensions dropped to around 44.”

Training adults to play alongside kids at recess is one strategy that helped Burbank Elementary School decrease suspensions.

See A Playworks Pro Training In Action

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