Students at Slate Ridge Elementary School have the option to race to swings, slides and jungle gyms as recess begins, but more and more are opting to gather around Vincent Van Slyke, the school's new unified arts paraprofessional.
Van Slyke, who is also the assistant band director at Reynoldsburg High School, leads the students in 30 minutes of more structured activities during recess -- such as kickball, soccer or tetherball, or even basic playground games such as hopscotch and four-square.
"I am out with the kids every day at recess," Van Slyke said. "All the kids don't have to play, but I offer the activity to anyone who wants to participate. We've played four-square and jump-rope and different types of hopscotch and we're doing soccer this week."
Principal Sue Martin said Van Slyke gives the students more options on the playground, but the main goal is to get them moving "and teaching them good sportsmanship and playground etiquette, such as learning to share and take turns."
"It was Superintendent (Steve) Dackin's request that students have 30 minutes of structured activity each day at recess," Martin said. "So each day during recess, Mr. Van Slyke is on the playground with the kids, playing activities and games with them."
She said the students have responded well to having an adult on the playground who doesn't just supervise, but gets them involved in activities with each other.
"I already see a lot of benefits to having this option," she said. "The kids are moving more and they are playing nicely together in the recess. It also really helps to have another adult on the playground. It is another set of eyes at that time of day to keep children safe."
Martin said cooperative play is important.
"We think this will help us promote a healthier lifestyle and we want to teach and incorporate wellness and cooperative play every day on the playground," she said.
"We are finding that kids who liked an activity in the first or second week are even recruiting other kids and continuing the activity on their own.
"We may not have yet hit every student's interest, but we hope to present enough activities that many children will enjoy," she said.
Van Slyke said he introduces a different activity each week, depending on the grade level he's working with, and works cooperatively with the physical education teacher.
"The kids have physical education once a week, but our goal is to get them moving every day," he said. "I've been playing tetherball and kickball with the fourth-graders. We are emphasizing staying active.
"Even if students think they are not exercising, they are exercising during recess when they are playing structured games."
Van Slyke also works with students in the technology lab, which is where the "unified arts" description applies, since he is encouraging both physical fitness activities and teaching computer and typing skills.
"The third- and fourth-graders are working on typing skills and learning to put together a Power Point," he said. "Since all classrooms and grades are using technology, it is important to teach kids typing skills at an earlier age.
"For first- and second-graders, I help them learn how to be creative using a computer and how to express themselves, besides writing their name and address and making sure they can do that on the computer as well as on paper," he said.
Van Slyke is a busy guy -- besides his duties as assistant marching band director at the high school, he teaches music lessons to 12 to 13 students each year.
He began teaching in the Reynoldsburg district last school year.
Van Slyke said the recess program not only gives kids more options than free play, but stresses cooperation and teamwork.
"The kids seem very enthusiastic about the program and they play better when they know an adult is playing with them," he said. "A majority of the kids -- at least 60 to 70 percent -- are participating in structured play. My goal is to bring that up to 90 to 100 percent.
"I think the kids enjoy having an adult at recess who actually plays with them and isn't there just to supervise," he said.
Top photo: EAMON QUEENEY/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH - Vincent Van Slyke, a unified arts paraprofessional, demonstrates how to play nine-square hopscotch to a group of first-graders during recess Sept. 5 at Slate Ridge Elementary School.