Panel Paper: Positive Impacts of Playworks On Students' Healthy Behaviors: Findings From a Randomized Controlled Trial

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 8:40 AM
Thomas Boardroom (Westin Georgetown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Susanne James-Burdumy1, Martha Bleeker1, Nicholas Beyler1, Jane Fortson1 and Rebecca London2, (1)Mathematica Policy Research, (2)Stanford University
Recess periods often lack the structure needed to support physical activity and positive social development. The Playworks program places full-time coaches in low-income elementary schools to provide opportunities for organized play during recess and throughout the school day. Playworks activities are designed to engage students in physical activity, foster social skills related to cooperation and conflict resolution, improve students’ ability to focus on class work, decrease behavioral problems, and improve school climate.  

Twenty-nine schools interested in implementing Playworks from six cities across the U.S. were recruited to participate in a rigorous random assignment evaluation of the Playworks program. Schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups during the 2010-2011 (cohort 1) or 2011-2012 (cohort 2) school year. During the one-year study period for each cohort, treatment schools received Playworks and control schools were not eligible to implement Playworks. We collected data from students, teachers and school staff at 25 cohort 1 schools in spring 2011 and an additional 4 cohort 2 schools in spring 2012 to document the implementation of Playworks and assess the impact of the program on key outcomes in several domains including physical activity, school climate, conflict resolution and aggression, learning and academic performance, youth development, student behavior and recess experience.

The study found significant impacts on physical activity, measured using accelerometers and structured recess observations. Accelerometer data showed that Playworks had a positive impact on students’ physical activity during recess. In particular, students in treatment schools engaged in physical activity during recess that was, on average, more intense than the physical activity engaged in by control students. Moreover, students in treatment schools spent significantly more time engaged in vigorous physical activity at recess than students in control schools. The main recess activity in which students were observed to be engaged was also less likely to be a sedentary activity (such as sitting and talking) in treatment schools, compared with control schools.

 The study also found significant improvements in school climate, reductions in conflict resolution and aggression, improvements in the transition from recess to classroom learning activities and improvements in recess experience. For example, teachers in treatment schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior than teachers in control schools. Teachers in treatment schools were also less likely to report difficulties in transitioning to classroom learning activities after recess and reported significantly less time to transition from recess to learning activities than teachers in control schools. Playworks also had an impact on the extent to which recess activities were organized by adults, the availability of equipment at recess, and the extent to which teachers reported that their students enjoyed adult-organized activities at recess and felt ownership over their activities during recess. The study showed no negative impacts of the program in any of the seven domains that were assessed.