Grantee Profile: Playworks

We kick off a series of posts on youth activity with 5 questions for Playworks ED Jon Gay

Q and A with Playworks Executive Director Jonathan Gay

This May, in honor of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, we present a series of spotlights with some of the youth physical activity partners in our Health and Wellness Strategy.

Playworks logo

We begin the series with Playworks New England, a “There at the Beginning” story for TBF. The Foundation was an early funder of Playworks entry into Boston Public Schools in 2007. Today, Playworks partners with 49 schools in Boston, Brockton, Cambridge, Lawrence, and New Bedford, working with 38 schools in Boston and 1 school in Cambridge in their direct service programming. Playworks New England Executive Director shares some insights with us.

Say we walk into a Playworks school to see the program in action. What do we see happening?

At a Playworks school, you don't see kids sitting alone on the sidelines. You see students getting active and respectfully playing games with their classmates. You see kids receiving high-fives and encouragement when they get out in four-square. You kids using Rock, Paper, Scissors to resolve conflicts or decide who gets to go first on the swings. You see positive adult role-models playing games alongside students. You see well-defined boundaries between games on the recess yard to ensure kids have safe spaces to play. When recess is over, you see students returning to class more focused and ready to learn because they've had the chance to get active, be creative, and have healthy social interactions with their peers.

How do you design your programs to be inclusive of all students and schools?

Jonathan Gay - Playworks
Playworks New England Executive Director Jonathan Gay 

Playworks designs programs based on the belief that every kid loves to play. But what we have found is that not every kid knows how to play. Playworks programming exists in order to level the playing field. We teach kids the rules and the skills they need to participate in any game being played at recess. We make sure games are inclusive and appropriate for any grade or ability level. We stop bullying by showing easy ways to resolve conflicts and by teaching lessons of respect and teamwork. At a Playworks school it becomes un-cool to exclude or ridicule any child for any reason at any time. Our programming helps transform the school day for students, leading to a positive, inclusive, and safe school environment.

If you could, share with us some of your recent successes.

As we close out the year we are particularly proud of our accomplishments.

  • The RAND Corporation found that Playworks is one of only seven elementary school social-emotional learning interventions across the nation to meet the highest criteria for evidence of impact under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • Playworks was chosen as a high impact "opportunity partner" by Boston Public Schools.
  • Playworks helped advance recess legislation in Massachusetts.
  • Playworks expanded our capacity building "train the trainer" services, reaching schools as far north as Gorham, New Hampshire and as far south as Kingston, Rhode Island.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for your organization heading into the next school year?

Playworks has the opportunity to reinvent recess. First, we are excited to partner with state and city officials to potentially pass legislation requiring recess in elementary schools. In addition, we aim to define quality recess. We have the opportunity to work with school districts and school leaders to reevaluate the amount of time they are providing for recess, as well as invest in the educators leading recess. We want every school to have a caring consistent adult to serve as a recess coach - whether employed by Playworks or the school district - the role of this individual will be integral to providing quality recess to children in schools. The combination of these goals will allow Playworks to continue working towards our aim of bringing safe, healthy play to 200,000 children in 400 elementary schools by December 2020.

Map of youth activity programs in Boston schools
Want to learn more about youth activity programs working in Boston schools? Click on the  link below to explore a visualization from Boston Indicators
Explore the data

Looking down the road, what’s your long-term vision of success?  

Our long-term vision for success is that every Boston Public Schools will have a recess Coach leading daily physical activity and supporting social and emotional learning through the power of play. We want to ensure that every elementary-aged student in the Boston Public School district has access to safe and healthy play every day during school. Successful completion of this goal will stop the chaos of bullying and discipline referrals at recess, and in turn, create safe, healthy and sustaining schools. 

Since 2007, the Boston Foundation and its generous donors have contributed more than $1.5 million to the success story that is Playworks New England. And of course, The Boston Foundation will once again join other local businesses and organizations at Playworks Eleventh Annual Corporate Kickball Tournament this June.