October 12, 2012 in Health

Restless at recess

Poor air quality keeps Wenatchee students indoors
Kaylin Bettinger The Wenatchee World, Wash. (MCT)
The Wenatchee World, Don Seabrook photo

A layer of smoke hangs over downtown Cashmere, Wash., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. The Cashmere school district canceled all classes for the second day in a row because of the health hazards of the smoke coming from local wildfires that is held in place by a weather inversion.
(Full-size photo)

As autumn light poured in through the windows and the temperature outside held at a pleasant 70 degrees, second graders sat at tables in small groups in a Columbia Elementary classroom Wednesday, drawing pictures and sharing stickers.

It wasn’t an activity for class. It was recess.

Kids talked about what they would be doing on days, unlike Wednesday, when they would be outside at noon.

“I like to be on the monkey bars,” one said.

“I like to climb up the pole and ring the bell,” said another.

“I like to play in the grass!” another shouted.

Some of the kids like inside recess. Some would rather be outside. But one thing is clear — with poor air quality keeping kids inside at recess for most of the past five weeks, these second graders could use some outdoor time to burn off some energy.

“It’s not ideal. It’s tough,” said Columbia principal Bill Eagle. “It’s been a seesaw for us.”

By seesaw, Eagle means that it’s hard to know if recess will be inside or outside right up until recess starts. With air quality right on the line between inside and outside recess this week, district administrators have to wait until the last minute to make the call. Wednesday morning, students were outside for the morning recess and after a small shift in air quality, they were inside for the lunch recess.

Second grader Emily Brown would rather be outside.

“Some days we go outside, then we come back in,” she said. “Usually it (smoke) would go away when it rains or when it snows,” she said.

For district administrators, that has been the problem for the past five weeks. No sign of rain. As weather conditions can change slightly throughout the day, students may get a break for one recess a day. But without precipitation, there have only been two days during the past five weeks that Columbia students have enjoyed every recess outside.

Chet Harum, the Wenatchee School District’s executive director of student services, is the guy responsible for making the inside-versus-outside recess call. Three times per day — in the morning, close to lunch and again in the afternoon — he checks air quality monitors, consults with the Chelan-Douglas Health District and recommends to Wenatchee schools whether they should hold recess inside or outside.

“I feel like the weatherman,” Harum said. “I really feel sorry for the weatherman at this point.”

With air-quality numbers on the line, Harum watches closely to try to get kids outside whenever possible.

“If we can, we’ll let them run and get some of that energy out,” Harum said.

The past five weeks have proved difficult for staff, as well as students. Eagle said students are getting used to being inside but because grades have recesses at different times, kids can’t run in the halls or they will distract other classes. They don’t have an outlet for their energy.

“I can say I’ve dealt with a lot of kids in the office,” he said.

The solution to the indoor problem is clear to administrators.

“Lets hope for some rain next week, huh?” Harum said.

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