How the Irvine Foundation Invests Dollars in Recess

You'd be hard pressed to find a youngster who doesn't love counting down the minutes until recess. For elementary school students, it's their favorite time of the day, but many schools are cutting down on playtime — or worse — eliminating recess to spend more time in the classroom.

That's a problem Oakland-based nonprofit Playworks is trying to tackle, and the organization is receiving support and recognition from a key Bay Area foundation.

Recently, Jill Vialet, the CEO and founder of Playworks, was one of six recipients of 2013 Leadership Awards from the James Irvine Foundation. Now in its eighth year, the awards are given to Californians providing innovative solutions to the state’s critical issues, and for Vialet, the issue wasn't just providing young people with playtime. Instead, the focus was on improving student's well-being through play, and a two-year study of the program showed a reduction in bullying, longer attention spans in class and better behavior throughout the school day.

Recess, Vialet said in a recent interview with Fast Company, "should be baked into the structure of the school day with well-trained, caring adults maximizing that time in the day to ensure kids had the opportunity to have fun and be physically active while learning inclusion, conflict-resolution, empathy, teamwork and leadership."

Improving the lives of young people in the Bay Area and across California has always been a goal of The James Irvine Foundation. (See James Irvine: Bay Area Grants). Since being founded in 1937 by California agricultural pioneer James Irvine, the foundation has continually invested in youth programs, community art projects, and advancing effective public policy throughout the state.

Now, with the foundation's $125,000 grant, Vialet will be able to continue her mission to provide playtime for students and enrich young people's lives. The program works by putting playground coaches into schools and training fourth- and fifth-graders to be recess ambassadors. Currently, the program is offered in 22 cities and, last year, it reached more than 350,000 students. (Read The James Irvine Foundation interim president and CEO, Don Howard's IP Profile.)  

Along with Playworks, this year's Leadership Award winners included several Bay Area nonprofits, as well as an organization based in Los Angeles, and the selected projects address a wide range of issues, including conservation, access to clean water, and financial planning for low-income people.