WATCH: Why do elementary schools need to separate indoor physical education space (gymnasium) and the cafeteria?
DPI standards (Wis. Admin. Code sec. PI 8) require Physical Education at elementary schools to be taught, at a minimum, three times a week for at least 30 minutes. For one elementary school, the schedule is illustrated at the bottom of this response. As you can see only one 30-minute space remains open for the entire week. Further, this schedule directly impacts reading and math. We require 120 minutes a day of literacy (reading and writing) instruction and 90 minutes a day of math instruction. Because of gym limitations, the P.E. schedule must be implemented first and these other core academic blocks have to be scattered/split elsewhere in the day. Thus P.E. scheduling becomes the priority versus reading and math. P.E. is critically important to students' overall well-being and research proves that regular physical activity every day supports academic achievement, but space scheduling should not dictate opportunities for academic instruction. One principal said that "having a separate gym and cafeteria would be a complete game changer" in terms of scheduling and deployment of academic blocks.
Second, it requires a little over an hour and a half to serve all students lunch -- shoehorned into the day to keep the tight P.E schedule intact (11:00 - 12:35 in the sample schedule below). Separating the gym would make the period when meals are served less rushed, not to mention the added stress to unset P.E. equipment and set up tables, then after lunch rushing to clean the cafeteria and reset the P.E. equipment. Not a great meal experience for children or teaching environment for staff.
Third, our two schools that have separate gyms and cafeterias (Deerfield & Forest Ridge) have opportunities to use the cafeteria as a large or small group instruction space without reducing P.E. instruction. For example, bringing in guest speakers for three to six classes. We have observed they can hold science and engineering fairs and unique parent involvement learning events (e.g. math projects) at these two schools without disrupting P.E. An "all-school" assembly at one of the five deficient elementary schools requires either two or more sessions due to the small space and means losing P.E. instruction for the time it takes to set up and run the assemblies. Finally the older schools with combined cafeterias and gyms, being designed in the 60's, have much less space designed for small group breakouts or learning project collaboration. Freeing the cafeteria for use by such student groups would be a move towards more equitable opportunities for all children regardless of their school assigned by neighborhood. Children in five of our schools not only lose opportunities for large and small group learning opportunities, they end up with less overall P.E. instruction over the course of a year.
Fourth, there are also non-instructional, but school culture-related issues negatively impacting five schools due to the lack of this space. For example, in five of our seven schools, when there is indoor recess due to inclement weather, it has to be held in classrooms with aides going from room to room and teachers losing uninterrupted planning time. In the two schools with gyms and cafeterias, either or both spaces can be used for indoor recess -- more efficient supervision and less stress for students and staff. Another example, school music programs for parents held at schools without a separate gym and cafeteria have a much poorer environment for their children's performances due to this lack of space - sometimes they are forced to move such programs to a larger school. In addition, ASPIRE after-school programs lock up the school gym/cafeteria until 6:00 p.m. greatly limiting community access to school facilities until after that time.