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Local schools decide on cold weather recess by degrees

Abby Milone (center) U46 communications specialist is talked inreading book first-graders during her visit indoor recess HighlSchool ElgFriday.  |

Abby Milone (center), U46 communications specialist, is talked into reading a book to first-graders during her visit to indoor recess at Highland School in Elgin on Friday. | Suzanne Baker ~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 27, 2014 6:37AM

ELGIN — Highland Elementary School recess monitor Alma Hurtado dreads the extreme cold weather.

When the temperature or wind chill drops below 10 degrees, as it did again on Friday, her charges are forced to spend their recess time inside their classroom.

“The kids have a lot of energy,” said Hurtado, who has served as a lunch/recess monitor for seven years. “Inside it is hard for them because they cannot burn off that energy. Kids need to scream and run around.”

And the experts agree. A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics said recess not only is a break from the rigors of the classroom, but can offer cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits, as well.

But when the weather is downright dangerous outside, even the same old classroom can be a warm respite. So on Friday, Hurtado’s students in Mayrena Guerrero’s first-grade class colored winter-themes pages or read books.

By the numbers

Elgin District U46, like most local school districts, established 10 degrees — either actual temperature or wind chill — as the tipping point between indoor and outdoor recess. At Indian Prairie School District 204, students head inside when the temperature or wind chill hits 5 degrees, whereas Naperville School District 203 the magic number is 0.

Although the actual temperature Friday was in the teens, blustery winds brought the wind chill to well below zero, so no one was outside for recess.

And the deep freeze is not expected to let up anytime soon. is projecting that daytime temperatures may stay below freezing through the end of the month.

Weather in the immediate future is equally bleak. Temperatures Monday on Tuesday could be similar to those that caused school closures throughout Northern Illinois earlier this month, so parents are urged to be alert and prepare for the possibility of delays or closures.

If and when students actually head outdoors for recess, students at all schools are expected to dress appropriately for winter weather recess with hats, gloves and winter coats. For many schools, snow pants are required if the kids want to play in the snow, otherwise students must stay on designated blacktop areas or the playground.

Extreme cold isn’t the only reason for indoor recess. Rain, snow, lightning or storm warnings also prevent kids from venturing outside. The ultimate decision falls in the hands of the principal to make the determination if the playground is safe for students.

Highland Principal Steve Johnson said his staff tries to put a positive spin on the indoor recess. “We talk about the disappointment and the reasons why students must be inside,” Johnson said. “But we also give kids choices for what they would like to do.”

He said coloring sheets, puzzles, and age-appropriate board games are popular with the younger students. Older kids enjoy guessing games such as hangman or heads-up seven up. “Some students will start on their homework so they have more time to play after school,” he said.

Staying warm

First-grader Amy Vasquez had no desire to go outside on Friday. Amy was content coloring a pony and snowflake. “It is more warm in here,” she said. Luis Zepeda’s favorite indoor activity is reading books, so the first-grader chose several planetary-related selections during his 20-minute recess.

If Miles Johnson had his druthers, he’d be out on the playground climbing the monkey bars or slide. He opted for coloring a snowflake instead.

Highland students have the option of showing off their indoor recess creativity. Any student can have his or her coloring page hung on the lunchroom walls for all to see.

With no means of venting the pent up energy, even a subdued first-grader can get a bit squirrelly after multiple days of indoor recess.

To encourage good behavior, Hurtado passed out Highland High Five slips to kids who were being respectful and responsible. The High Fives can be redeemed for all sorts of trinkets such as erasers, pencils and crayons.

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