April 07, 2009


SUNY students teach lessons during recess

Barry Elementary School students learn how to channel their energy, reduce aggression


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland outdoor recreation major Cara Rowlands, right, plays the part of a hungry bear Friday, catching salmon in an interactive environmental exercise with Barry Elementary School fifth-graders.

Staff Reporter

Playing the role of quail looking for food on the ground, sixth-graders at Barry Elementary School formed lines and, one at a time, ran across the gymnasium to pick up popsicle sticks and poker chips off the floor.
They ran back to their “families,” lines of other sixth-graders awaiting their turn. When everyone had gone, several SUNY Cortland students who were managing the exercise called for quiet.
“How easy was that?” junior Caleb Van Sickle asked the children.
Not easy, some of them said.
“Finding food isn’t easy, is it?” he said. “But animals have to do it every day.”
The students then made the exercise a bit harder, adding hoops and jump ropes for the children to get through as they ran to find “food.”
This was recess on a rainy Friday, when the children had to spend their free time indoors instead of on the playground.
In the gym next door, fifth-graders played the role of salmon swimming upstream to spawn. In a continuous circle, they jumped ropes, tried to elude college students tagging them in the role of “bears” trying to catch the fish, then leapfrogged over each other in a line, then jumped 3 feet.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday since mid-March, recreation majors at SUNY Cortland have been spending recess at Barry, doing activities with fifth- and sixth-graders that are designed to teach as well as allow the children to unleash their energy.
The students in Professor Eddie Hill’s recreation leadership course manage exercises that encourage resiliency and its seven traits: initiative, creativity, independence, insight, values, humor and relationships.
Principal Lydia Rosero and Hill created the program because Barry pupils needed something to do during recess that would cut down on aggressive behavior toward each other.
“We really look forward to it,” said sophomore Steve Simmons. “One girl wrote thank-you notes to the three of us who led her group one day.”
The Barry pupils will take a 40-page questionnaire at the end of the semester about whether their self-confidence and ability to get along with others grew through the recess activities. The students will measure the result.
Next fall, Hill’s course will measure the Barry pupils’ resiliency qualities before the semester and then after it.
On Fridays, Professor Amy Shellman’s environmental recreation students join the mix, although some students are taking both courses. About 50 to 60 SUNY Cortland students from both courses lead and manage the activities.
Shellman’s students add an outdoor slant to the resiliency-building activities, which was where the exercises about quail and salmon came from.
“We played fox-and-rabbit last time, with kids playing tag,” Van Sickle said. “We sit down with the kids at the end and debrief them about what they learned, about the wilderness. We want them to understand how nature relates to them.”
At the end of April, the Barry pupils will go to Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture in Cortlandville and make shelters while hearing about the animals, plants and trees to be found there.
As the fifth-graders ran through their salmon play activity, Simmons asked one small boy, “How’s it going?”
Things were going well, the boy said. He was doing better than he had been.
“Good,” Simmons said.
After the children returned to class, Hill and Shellman led the students through their own quick reflection exercise. What had worked, Hill asked them, and what had they observed?
“We write a one-page reflection paper every week and keep a journal,” said junior Cara Rowlands.
“I’m very pleased with this program,” Rosero said. “Recess is traditionally a time when pupils get in trouble and different social issues surface. This has helped a great deal.”


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