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School sees merit in later lunch

Fourth-grader Camilla Conley says that ever since L.P. Brown Elementary School postponed lunch until after recess, she has had more energy to play her favorite games: capture the flag and kickball.

"When you have food before recess, you don't want to play because you feel all soggy," the 10-year-old said.

A growing number of schools nationwide and in states such as Arizona, Indiana and Montana have seen benefits from swapping the traditional recess and lunch times. Those schools have reported that students eat more of their lunches, throw away less waste, are less likely to get into trouble and are more attentive when they return to class after lunch, according to Education World, an online resource for educators.

Such research prompted L.P. Brown Principal Maureen Spacciante to consider the change, and she decided to move forward with the new recess-before-lunch schedule in February.

So far, the school has experienced similar results.

Students are eating more and throwing away less, said Spacciante, who has had students track how the weight of their waste has changed in the past two months.

"Children were not eating when they were waiting to go to recess; they would toss everything and go," she said. "It's a positive step to try to have the children become more aware of what they're eating and get some nutrition in the kids so they're ready to learn in the afternoon."

Meanwhile, discipline referrals at lunch and recess have dropped from as many as six per day to as few as one since the schedule change, Spacciante said.

"They're enjoying their time with each other," she said. "They're ready to sit and talk with a friend after recess."

Two other Olympia elementary schools - Centennial and Lincoln - already schedule recess before lunch, said Peter Rex, an Olympia School District spokesman.

"We'll certainly be talking about this with other principals and seeing what their thoughts are," he said. "The results that we're seeing at L.P. Brown are very encouraging."

Most elementary students in North Thurston Public Schools have recess after lunch. Certain grade levels at some schools do the reverse because of scheduling reasons, said Courtney Schrieve, a district spokeswoman, though she doesn't rule out the prospect of expanding that setup.

"It's definitely something to think about," she said.

No Tumwater School District elementary schools have recess before lunch, though district officials have discussed the possibility, said Sue Haskin, a Tumwater spokeswoman.

L.P. Brown first-grader Lexi Cross, 6, said she likes having recess before lunch.

"You get very, very hungry, and then you go inside and get some food," she said.

But the new schedule isn't a hit with all L.P. Brown students.

"I don't necessarily like it," said Macall Prengel, 8, a third-grader. "I know people used to get stomach aches from eating their food too fast, but now people eat so much food."

Heather Woodward covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-4225 or Online