Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Mother's Plea for Play

Guest blogger Kanya Shabazz is the program director for Playworks DC, one of DCAYA's newest members. 

As a mother of two African-American boys, I am deeply affected by events that have led to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We have reached a tipping point….finally. For too many years, I have wondered how many lives it will take before we say enough; before we examine the institutions that make our children feel unsafe, not valued, and not heard. This goes beyond our criminal justice system.

I have worked with school districts in California, New York and now Washington, DC. In every city, I have witnessed acts of micro aggression against troubled youth within school systems. In the District, underperforming schools facing increased pressures to improve academic performance are also issuing an increased number of disciplinary referrals. In elementary schools, students are spending longer hours in academic blocks with fewer opportunities for unstructured time. When students have an opportunity for unstructured time, typically recess, students with behavioral challenges create an environment that is unsafe and exclusionary. In our toughest schools, principals may opt to forfeit recess time all together, meanwhile studies show that play is an essential part of a child’s development.

Schools partner with Playworks to transform recess and play into positive experiences that help kids and teachers get the most out of every learning opportunity. A qualified youth development professional facilitates safe, meaningful play where every kid has fun and contributes to creating an inclusive environment.

Take seven year old *Chris* for example.

When Chris came to the West Education Campus as a brand new second grader, he began acclimating himself to his new surrounding by arguing and fighting with his classmates. Chris’ teacher would often take away recess minutes as a consequence for his behavioral challenges in the classroom. Coach Bridge, a Playworks Program Coordinator, who has facilitated structured recess at West Education for two years, took this disciplinary measure as an opportunity. When Chris was restricted from play at recess, Coach Bridge would have Chris think about rules to make games more fun and fair. After recess, Coach Bridge would meet with Chris and discuss his day while also setting goals for better behavior in the classroom and during recess. Last week Chris approached Coach Bridge:
“You know Coach Bridge, I’m not getting into as many fights as usual.”
“Chris, you’re so right? What changed?”
“Recess is way more fun when I don’t fight as much.”
This is the self reflection Playworks Coaches work to cultivate in students every day.
In every Playworks school, there is a percentage of marginalized youth who have a significant history of aggressive behavior. When antisocial, aggressive behavior can become a death sentence for our youth, interventions that focus on developing pro-social skills (independent conflict resolution, positive language, and behavior and inclusion) are more important than ever. Playworks Coaches reach every child, especially those who struggle most with behavioral issues. Our evidence-based curriculum partner’s youth with young adult advocates who believe that play can bring the best out of every child.

Photo courtesy of Playworks DC

Kanya Shabazz's favorite recess games are double dutch and four square. Learn more about Playworks and how you can be involved here:

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