Pictured: There are plenty of board games available to play in the recess room.
Photos courtesy of the Wantagh School District
A significant part of the middle school experience for students is developing social skills and positive relationships with others. Wantagh Middle School’s new recess program aims to do just that.
The upper cafeteria has been transformed into a game room, where students can socialize and bond over friendly competition. They also can go outside where a recess coordinator leads different activities.
Each grade level has a designated lunch period and students spend half the time eating and half the time at recess. While one group eats, the other plays, and they switch at the halfway point of the period. Principal Anthony Ciuffo said that this required a lot of coordination, including opening a second serving line in the lower cafeteria’s kitchen and planning the transition of students from one cafeteria to the other. The new recess program launched in January after the holiday break and was quickly embraced by the students.
Mr. Ciuffo said that plans for the game room were in the works for a few years, but was delayed by COVID restrictions. With a full return to normal this year, he and Assistant Principal Rachel Quattrocchi were able to make it a reality. The upper cafeteria features numerous air hockey, foosball and ping pong tables, a basketball arcade game, a giant Connect Four set and dozens of board games, many of which were donated by community members.
“I enjoy how there’s so many options,” sixth grader Paul Felice said. “One day you can do something and the next day you can do something else.”
“It’s a really fun experience and I like the competition you can have with your friends,” added Luke Rose.
Mr. Ciuffo said that many students, after they finished lunch, would go on their Chromebooks. Staring as screens, he said, does not benefit them socially so he wanted to create an environment that fostered peer-to-peer connections.
“We understand the importance of structured and unstructured play time for students, especially at the middle level where their social interaction can be the most vulnerable,” he said. “Creating a program where students can reap the benefits of recess was critical. Students need choice and autonomy and the indoor recess space along with a more structured outdoor program provides students with that choice in a safe, fun and productive way.”
Following the successful launch of the recess program this year, Mr. Ciuffo said he hopes to expand it further next year with new games and activities. He also hopes to update the upper cafeteria’s aesthetics to make it cozier.
Ms. Quattrocchi said that student feedback is taken seriously to ensure that the recess game room is a space they will enjoy. Already, she said, new games have been added based on their suggestions.
“A well-structured recess program can help students increase their attention, stay on task in the classroom, reduce disruptive behavior in the classroom, and most importantly, improve social and emotional development by teaching students social skills such as sharing and negotiating,” Ms. Quattrocchi added.