Today’s interview is with Jodie Leidecker, a native Kentuckian and a graduate of Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. Leidecker lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband and their two children, a 9th grader and her currently home-schooled 10-year-old. She pushed her local elementary school to institute daily recess and is now working on a state-wide initiative to do the same. She is also trying to get her local schools to reduce homework loads.
Interview with Jodie Leidecker
by Sara Bennett
“I made a vow that I wouldn’t stop until every kid in the state gets recess”
-Jodie Leidecker, parent, Berea, Kentucky
How is it that elementary schoolchildren don’t get recess?
In 1990, Kentucky passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act, which put a lot more pressure on teachers to meet test scores. As a way of getting in a little more academics, a lot of schools eliminated recess. My own daughter didn’t get recess regularly in elementary school at all–maybe a discretionary recess here and there, but there was no guarantee. Kentucky isn’t the only state where kids don’t get recess. This is a problem nation-wide.
How did you decide to challenge this?
I attended school advocacy classes at Forward in the Fifth (Congressional District)–classes set up to train parents to understand school governance and become education advocates. I live in one of the poorest regions in the country and they have these classes to try to increase both parental involvement and the numbers of high school graduates. They give you dinner and a stipend to attend.
There, we learned a lot about our rights, responsibilities, and what we could actually influence in our schools.
The recess issue came up over and over again. One day they brought in the research which conclusively shows that kids need recess. So I said, “well, my gosh, at least we can do this. This is something simple.”
What steps did you take?
I started talking to a lot of other parents about the importance of recess. I made little informational flyers (1, 2), including when the School Board would meet and whom to call, and I tucked them up wherever I went. People began calling the school and talking to their parent representatives on the Site-based Council.
I brought the issue to the Site-based Council, and they told me it was an issue for the School Board. So I went to the School Board and was told it was an issue for the Site-based Council. The lawyer at the School Board quoted pieces of statutes, which I didn’t really understand, but then when I went home and read the statutes, I saw it wasn’t saying anything I wasn’t.
Because parents were very strongly in favor of recess–I got 500 people to sign a petition to the Council, which I also sent to the State Board of Education–the Council finally made the decision that elementary children could have 15 minutes of recess a day. It’s not much, but it’s something.
After we got recess in our school, I wanted to see every school in Kentucky give their children recess. I started calling legislators, I got my friends around the state to put up flyers which said to call the legislative hotline, I emailed every education professor in the state, every professor at the colleges of health, and anyone else I could think of. Many have been interested and supportive. I finally got my legislator to agree to sponsor a bill, but he hasn’t done it yet.
These kinds of bills have been in the House and Senate before, primarily because of obesity. No one’s really talking about the importance of free play being crucial to a child’s health and development, but they will talk about obesity.
Were you worried about repercussions for speaking up?
I know there can be repercussions, but my daughter was such a good student and she never got in trouble, so I didn’t think it would come up. No one ever got resentful towards her. So that was lucky. I know that can happen.
Why did you decide to take on the issue of homework as well?
I first came across the issue of homework in an article in Mothering Magazine. Then, at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, I contacted you for advice, some resources, and some support. Since I’d already been through the recess issue, I started to do the same things. I made flyers with the fact sheet from The Case Against Homework, and passed them out in the car rider lines at both the elementary and middle/high schools. I got a good response from parents. A lot of them told me, “oh, I hate homework; it’s horrible for our family,” but no one contacted anyone or said anything to the school. So I contacted the school myself. The elementary school principal told me that there was already a homework policy in place and that he would remind the teachers not to exceed the time limits of 20 minutes in grades 1-3 and 20-40 minutes in grades 4-5.
Then I was invited to bring my concerns to the site-based Council–the same place I’d been with the recess issue. They decided they’d come up with a survey and they developed a fair-minded one, but then they decided not to implement it because they said they wouldn’t know what to do with the data.
Any parting words?
Children’s voices really get lost. Kids hate homework. Why is that? Kids love to play? Why is that?
Parents are concerned about their kids but they don’t have the resources to take on these issues. I just got an email from a parent who said, “I’m concerned, but I don’t have time. I have to help my kids with their homework right now.”