State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, recognizes an old ally in Pierce Mower. The fifth grader testified Monday for a Douglas' House Bill 83 mandating recess in elementary school. Pierce, accompanied by buddy Ephraim Lane, had testified two years ago for a prior version of Douglas’ recess bill.
Photo: TY TAGAMI/AJC
Photo: TY TAGAMI/AJC

Kids to Georgia lawmakers: give us a break already!

To say the legislative process moves slowly is an understatement to someone like Pierce Mower.

The Atlanta fifth grader visited the Georgia Gold Dome in 2017, when he was 9, with some advice to the wise grownups in charge: kids need to exorcise their wiggles, he advised a House education committee. Students can’t learn without a daily break.

So give us recess!

House Bill 273 made some headway that year, but in the end it did not pass. Public school proponents had protested that the modern rigors of schooling left little time for fun and games: teachers must use every minute to prepare for standardized state tests.

Now, 20 percent older, and wiser, Pierce, hasn’t given up. And he has a more nuanced demand.

On Monday, the rising middle school student visited the Gold Dome again to advise lawmakers who clearly had not heeded his earlier message.

Pierce wants the successor bill, House Bill 83, to become law, yes. But this process has taken so long that he now wants an amendment: the proposal currently mandates recess in only kindergarten through fifth grade. But Pierce will be in fifth grade for only a couple more months, and, should it pass, the law would give him no relief next fall.

“It should be in middle school, too,” he told the Senate Education and Youth Committee Monday.

During an ensuing question and answer period, Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, a member of the committee, tossed Pierce a softball question: is it easier to focus on school after you’ve had a break, she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

“I thought so,” said Parent, “because I have a little boy.”

So there’s another Democrat in support. But It’s not a partisan issue. Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, a retired educator, said his own grandkids aren’t getting enough recess.

“To me, this bill is common sense,” he said, adding a line that got a laugh, “and maybe that’s why it’s having so much trouble.”

On a more serious note, Wilkinson said too many kids are medicated for behavior issues that might be addressed with play time. “I think it’s a great bill and I just want to go on record saying that.”

Neither Wilkinson nor Parent got a chance to vote for the measure because it was scheduled for a hearing without one.

To become law, the bill must get voted out of the Senate committee then pass through the chamber’s Rules committee and be scheduled for a vote on the floor of the full Senate. And it must happen by the time the legislative session ends, on April. 2.

Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, has been preaching the value of recess, for both mental and physical health. The former Bulldogs football player who went on to play pro ball, has been warning about a relatively high obesity rate in Georgia. The House approved his bill by an unassailable margin earlier this month, and he needs the Senate’s approval to seal the deal.

In prior years, similar versions of his bill foundered in the Senate, despite the testimony of experts such as Olga Jarrett, an emeritus professor from Georgia State University who said then, and again on Monday, that recess is essential to learning. Kids need “down time,” she said.

Pierce’s mom, Megan Mower, saw her hopes dashed two years ago. But she hopes this time will be different. Recess is an obvious win for schools, she said, because the students who get it will excel. “When they’re happy, they’re going to learn better.”

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