NPR logo

Oakland Group Seeks More Play In School Day

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Oakland Group Seeks More Play In School Day


Oakland Group Seeks More Play In School Day

Oakland Group Seeks More Play In School Day

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Shrinking budgets and strict academic mandates prompted California schools to cut gym classes and cut back on recess time. Now, an Oakland-based nonprofit is trying to put more focus on fitness.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Remember playing games in gym class? Well, these days, many schools have dropped physical education. That means some of our youngest students have never played four square, or dodgeball or Red Rover. Some don't know what to do with themselves at recess.

Now, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit is trying to revive playground games to put some fitness back into the school day. From member station KQED, Sarah Varney reports that the low income school program is beginning to attract nationwide attention.

Unidentified Children: (Chanting) Ice cream soda, cherry on the top. Who's your boyfriend? I forgot. With an A, B, C…

SARAH VARNEY: Does it seem like you've always known how to jump rope or play hopscotch? Well, someone did teach you those games, but that never happened for a lot of these kids at Goss Elementary School in San Jose.

Mr. BRIAN SCHMAEDICK (Principal, Mildred Goss Elementary School): I'm not exaggerating to say that the students don't have any exposure to organized games at all.

VARNEY: Brian Schmaedick is the school's principal.

Mr. SCHMAEDICK: Where has that gone? I don't know. I guess we as adults have put our energy into other things. We've just said that that's not the place. When you have poor kids that don't know how to read, well, the energy should go into better reading strategies and more time doing reading.

VARNEY: Schmaedick says during recess, his students either wander aimlessly or thrashed about. There were no rules and no way to resolve conflicts. Schmaedick says fights routinely broke out, and students returned to their classrooms keyed up. Three years later, after the arrival of Coach Michelle, the playground at Goss is downright utopian.

Ms. MICHELLE BARRON (Coach, Sports4Kids): Today, we're going to play one of Coach Michelle's favorite jump rope games called jump the creek. Everybody say, jump the creek.

Unidentified Children: Jump the creek.

Ms. BARRON: Great. Everybody…

VARNEY: Coach Michelle, aka Michelle Barron, lays two long jump ropes parallel to each other on the ground. It's a creek, she tells the kids, and they must jump from one side to the other without falling in, but there's a catch.

Ms. BARRON: Do you think we should make the creek a little bit bigger?

Unidentified Children: Yeah.

VARNEY: Coach Michelle works for Sports4Kids, a program that places trained coaches at schools that serve low income kids. The students attend a game class each week with Coach Michelle. They learn hopscotch, kickball and soccer, to name a few. Then every day at recess, under Coach Michelle's direction, the kids really get their game on.

Ms. BARRON: Go. Okay, yellow sits down there, green's yours - this is your goal.

VARNEY: Within minutes of the recess bell, Coach Michelle has a group of first graders geared up for a soccer game. For many of them, this recess is their only exercise.

Ms. BARRON: Here we go. Ready? Three bounces.

VARNEY: The kids, many of them here are overweight, get much-needed exercise and have fun doing it. But Coach Michelle says they're also learning important social skills, like how to resolve conflicts and handle their anger, how to offer help and be a team player. And just what is Coach Michelle's secret to diffusing run-ins? Rochambeau.

Unidentified Children: Rochambeau. Rochambeau.

VARNEY: Paper covers rock, scissors cut paper, rock breaks scissors. Kids all over the playground, at the tether-ball pole, or the hopscotch board or here on the makeshift soccer field are Rochambeau-ing each other.

Ms. BARRON: And that's something that we start in kindergarten, and they know when the ball goes out of bounds, or there's a call that they're not sure, they stop and they Rochambeau. And they - it's amazing how they take the results of that simple action, and they go with it.

(Soundbite of children shouting)

VARNEY: And Goss Principal Schmaedick says now that the kids are having fun during recess and getting out some energy, they're better focused in the classroom. The program will soon be expanded to 600 low income schools nationwide, an army of Rochambeau-ing, hopscotching jump-ropers who will happily challenge you to a game of soccer.

Unidentified Children: (Chanting) Ice cream soda, cherry on the top. Who's your boyfriend? I forgot. With an A, B, C…

VARNEY: For NPR News, I'm Sarah Varney.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.