Angela Dunford and her mission to achieve two recesses at school

A beautiful photo of Angela Dunford and her family, who activated this mission.

Today, I come to you all with an interview. Enter Angela Dunford, a mother of three kids who attend Frisco ISD schooling. It has become part of her work to try to include two recesses as a part of the regular school day.

Question: Could you tell me what you’re trying to work on and the reasoning behind it?

Answer: Sure. I am a mom with 3 boys in the Frisco ISD school district. I am trying to get a 2nd recess in the school day. So, I think ever since the start of school when my oldest started kindergarten I looked at the schedule and I couldn’t believe there was only one recess built-in. I was like, these little kids pay attention for five minutes and they’re going to get only one play break the whole day? I knew it was not something that would work super well for him and that his brain was not wired that way. So I eventually found the time and energy to devote to proactively asking the district, in collaboration with the School Health Advisory Council, to put in a second recess. That was about 3 and a half years ago. I worked closely with the district personnel as well as other parents who were super enthusiastic about this. To get the ball rolling, we did a pilot at five elementary schools in Frisco. It was super successful. So at the five schools, they did a second recess In addition to the 30-minute recess. They called it the brain break program just to help communicate the purpose to parents or people might not be as informed about the value of recess. 

Question: Does that happen often, that people don’t understand the value of recess?

Answer:  I’ve found most people understand, obviously kids who are taking breaks are going to learn better. Once in a while, you will come across someone who is not aware that kids actually do better academically when adding more recess time. Several studies show that. Some people will say that you’re taking minutes away from math or that they’re going to get further behind, but really the opposite is true. The most common concern I come across is from people who think that adding recess time will make it harder for teachers to teach the same amount of material in less time. It will actually make it easier for the teacher. That’s what we saw in the pilot. The kids will come back in and they will be focused. No stop licking your pencil, stop talking to your neighbor, whatever. When the district checked in with teachers 2/3 of the way through the school year, the schools involved in the pilot were further into the curriculum than the other schools in Frisco who weren’t doing that. The teachers were less stressed. They also double-checked with the school nurses and counselors to make sure that the recesses were beneficial. The counselors said that the students were happier, and parents were saying that the kids aren’t dreading school anymore and are excited about going. I’m just really passionate about this, as it comes down to the connection between kids. Humans need to build relationships. As kids get older and older, we see more disconnection happening, because of busy schedules, and playing outside just doesn’t happen as naturally. Childhood depression and anxiety are going up, especially at younger ages. This is horrifying, but it’s happening a lot in the younger generation. We need to create a safe environment and help kids learn how to interact with each other and have empathy, which is critical to growing up to be successful adults. 

Question:  Makes a lot of sense to me.  So what ended up happening after the pilot?

Answer:  Let me rewind it a little. Super successful pilot. It was a very awesome year. The district was like: okay, cool. Let’s do it at all the campuses now. However, what happened was that the district started changing parameters, so instead of 15-20 minutes, there was a minimum of ten minutes, even for 5 and 6-year-olds. However, kids often use the first few minutes getting out to the play area and just figuring out what they want to play, so they may only have 1-2 minutes to actually play before having to go inside. Many schools did say they were going to continue doing 15-minute breaks. But some schools that weren’t part of the pilot program or schools that weren’t really as interested in the idea tended to go with the minimum 10-minute option. They say that they see that recess is important, but sometimes the way they’re implementing these brain breaks shows that they don’t really understand its importance. They say, “oh, we’re going to do our break inside, and kids can do free-reading time or something.” That is not the same thing. Most kids have to move, yell, be crazy, spin, play tag, hang upside down, and get energy out of their bodies to be less stressed and happier. It was disappointing to see the district change many of the parameters that made the pilot so successful because our request was based on science. Some schools took something really good and turned it into something that follows the district’s instructions but is not very valuable, or could even make things worse, not better. I’ve been trying really hard to work side by side with the district, but they don’t want to take it across the finish line, so it won’t be as beneficial in a lot of cases. So I finally started a petition to get our district’s attention. I want them to know that it isn’t just a parent here and there that cares about this. We know this is falling short of what students need, and it’s unfair how some kids, like my own, are still not getting what they need. Hopefully, with the petition, the district will take this more seriously and prioritize the mental health of students. 

Question: What about when your kids get into middle school? In a couple of years your kids are going to be in middle school and there aren’t breaks already worked in for students.

Answer: Right, you’re totally right. My oldest kid, I originally started fighting for a second recess for him, but unfortunately he never got to see the change in his own classroom, and he’s now in middle school. I can’t tell you how many parents I have gotten telling me how we need something like this in middle school. They are not getting the opportunity to take breaks.

We are not taking care of our middle schoolers. It’s as if their mental and emotional needs have changed over the summer between 5th and 6th grade.

– Angela Dunford

That is definitely something I want to tackle in the near future. I figured first we would get this through the elementary schools before moving onto the middle schools. And I am tired of waiting for that, so I think you will notice I’ll start advocating for that really soon. And you’re totally right, they do have 3-4 minute breaks to walk between classes, and that is quickly filled with walking to your next class, using the bathroom or going to your locker, and barely any time to actually talk to friends. Kids need time to socialize, right? You still need connection in middle school, right? Even more than maybe elementary school. You spend more time on Chromebooks and less time actually looking at your classmates and having real discussions. Yeah, I think that it is totally imbalanced. Legally, adults are allowed to take breaks during their workday. Our middle school kids technically don’t get breaks. Our prisoners are legally required to be given more outdoor breaks during the day than our own kids. Something is a little off there. So I think it will be interesting to talk to more people in the district and ask if they could envision putting a free social break into the middle school day. I know there is that advisory period, which I think is pretty cool. Kids can get their homework done during the middle of the day so when they get home they can spend more time with family. But maybe if we said, let’s do this for a little less time so that kids can at least get a 15-minute break to go outside or talk to friends. Or maybe doing advisory 2-3 times a week so they get a bigger opportunity to take breaks. Maybe shorter class periods can make that happen. I know that the time there is available we just have to be willing to rearrange a couple of things. There are a lot of creative ways to get that done. And the cool thing is that there are a certain number of instructional minutes that the state requires to have in school from the first day of school to the last day of school, and in Texas recess actually counts as a part of that instructional time. 

Some thoughts: I am actually a tutor for some of my neighbors who are going into middle school this year. It’s definitely interesting from the teacher’s perspective. One thing you want to do is maybe to suggest doing something still educational while still having a good time. Like one thing that I did the other day was that I had my neighbors and I toss a bean bag back and forth to each other. This was fun, they were laughing, and as I did this, I had them count up to practice their addition. We went up by 2s then by 3s, so on and so forth. I think incorporating something like that might increase your odds of actually being approved for middle school. I think they would like that idea more. However, I do support where you are going there. In terms of advisory, since I just finished middle school at Pearson, it is nice that people do have the freedom to be able to choose where they want to go. So, people can choose if they want to go to the gym and play games or if people can choose to go and study and work on their homework. Some people do get mandatory advisories, where they do have to go to a certain classroom. 

Answers: Really? That was never really an option for my kids. My kids are going to Smith Elementary and Clark Middle. My oldest is in middle school already and has never actually had the option to go and choose where he wanted to go. 

Thoughts: Yeah and for advisory this past year I have seen all sorts of things like Disney karaoke, kickball, Just Dance, things like that. I think keeping an advisory is still good to do so that people can choose if they want to continue staying educational or just doing something fun. 

Response: Yeah, I’d be all for that. I think that is a great way to do that so that kids can choose what they want to do, and have a fun social option there.

Thoughts: Some other things to keep in mind is that for me in this past year we would have an advisory immediately after lunch. So it was a brain break then immediately going into another break. I know in elementary school they have specials once a day, like art, music, pe, etc. In middle school, people do get to choose the electives that they want to take, so that is just something to keep in mind. It might be good to split those different types of breaks up a bit throughout the day.

Response: That’s really good feedback. 

Angela then explained how at Clark the students are just assigned to one advisory teacher and have to go there every day in the week for a silent study hall, though sometimes they can go to tutorials for a certain class, depending on the day. I brought up the fact that if she were to say that my school (Pearson) is doing things differently for advisory, she might have the better chance to change Clark’s advisory to be something better for kids to have brain breaks. 

Question:  Anything else that you want people to know?

Response: The last thing that I wanna say is that a lot of states in the west like California, Arizona, Utah, Washington, etc, already do two recesses as the norm.  So this isn’t something crazy or extreme that we’re asking for.

The kids love it. The teachers love it. Scientists and health officials have seen the difference that it has made, so hopefully, we can make a change.

Angela Dunford

Me: You heard it from her, folks. To support Angela and her mission, make sure to follow her on social media and to spread the word about this article. You can follow this link to see her petition and read more about the cause: Thank you all for reading, have a great day!

Update: Recently, Pearson Middle School advisories have changed for the 2021-2022 school year so that they do have to be all educational. Throughout this process, with more pushback and support, we might be able to do something about this to help kids to get the breaks their brains need to be healthy. Thank you!