Summit Schools whack rec program in favor of more test prep |

Summit Schools whack rec program in favor of more test prep

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News

Some parents were surprised to hear Summit School District is discontinuing its popular winter recreation program when a letter was distributed earlier this week.

According to Summit School District assistant superintendent Karen Strakbein, it’s a decision elementary school principals have been discussing for several years, and it was finalized and announced to staff last spring. The goal is to find more instructional time for students just prior to them sitting for the Colorado State Assessment Program (CSAP).

But to parents like Robyn Brewer and David Cunningham, eliminating a chance for students to move around and breathe fresh air outside of the school setting – particularly in favor of more time sitting still in front of a teacher – isn’t OK.

The winter recreation program allots roughly three days for elementary students grades 2 through 5 to go cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, snowshoeing, participate in recreation center programs and more. Ending it wasn’t a question of money, district spokeswoman Jaimee Borger said, but a question of classroom time.

“We based our decision on culminating factors that not only impact our days of instruction, but our measurement of student success,” the parent notice reads. “Summit School District and the elementary students need to focus on instructional time in the classroom. This time is best spent before the Colorado Student Assessment Program which is during the months of January through March.”

“We cannot keep having three days right before CSAP and have the scores we do,” Borger said, adding that the program involves significant coordination time beforehand.

Brewer took a quick poll of other parents before commenting and found that not many of her peers were aware of the decision.

“I’m really disappointed that the district didn’t ensure that this information was communicated to parents earlier,” she said, adding, “For a district that advocates well-rounded learning, I’m disappointed that they would do away with an opportunity for students to participate in activities unique to our mountain environment … I think it’s a mistake to eliminate such a unique program strictly in favor of classroom instruction, and it’s especially unfortunate for students who may not have access to these activities outside of school due to financial or cultural factors.”

Brewer and others said such activities encourage team-building, leadership development and critical-thinking skills.

The alternative to eliminating the program is to add school days, which isn’t feasible with the district’s available resources, Strakbein said.

“It’s a bittersweet thing,” Strakbein said. “It’s hard when we have to make choices like that.”

It’s not that the district is against physical activity. On Tuesday, board members approved revisions to the district’s wellness policy that states: “understanding that physical education is a crucial and integral part of a child’s education, the district will provide opportunity to ensure that students engage in healthful levels of physical activity to promote and develop each student’s physical, mental, emotional and social well-being daily.”

District officials hope community organizations will continue to help students access winter recreation – just not during school hours. They eye winter break, spring break and weekends as potential times to maintain the non-school-based version of the program.

Cunningham thinks that type of programming should be more of an add-on than an instead-of. It would increase outdoors exposure for students who can’t afford it, he said.

He agrees with Brewer that eliminating the winter recreation program isn’t a good solution to bettering state assessment scores. He actually thinks it might do the opposite.

“Exercise and fresh air is a great complement to learning,” he said. “Studies show physical education helps students learn and achieve … Exercise goes hand-in-hand with learning.”

He said the question of three days of instructional time is akin to cramming for a test.

“I don’t see how three days throughout the year are going to make or break a CSAP score,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ve been learning the CSAP (material) all year.”

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