Playworks Implementation in 17 Schools from 6 U.S. Cities

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Mathematica Policy Research and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University conducted a randomized controlled trial of Playworks, a nonprofit organization that delivers a safe, healthy recess in low-income elementary schools in 22 U.S. cities. They collected data from students, teachers and school staff at the schools that participated in the trial. The findings are reported in four research briefs; this is the third of those briefs. 

Key Findings

  • The research team observed strong Playworks implementation in 8 of the 17 treatment schools, moderate implementation in 6 schools and weak implementation in 3 schools. At strongly implementing schools, recess was organized, students were engaged and Playworks coaches employed tools and strategies to promote conflict resolution, inclusion and positive messaging. Principals and teachers were supportive and knowledgeable about the program and the schools had policies in place that supported Playworks, including the junior coach program and class game time with the Playworks coach.

  • A range of contextual factors influenced implementation and required program flexibility. Lack of recess in prior years and some school policies, such as withholding recess as punishment for poor behavior or missed schoolwork, were associated with weaker Playworks implementation. Other contextual factors, such as recess schedules, were not associated with implementation quality, although such factors did require coaches to be flexible in implementing Playworks.

  • Teachers and principals expressed support for the changes that Playworks coaches implemented through recess, the junior coach program and class game time. Students regarded the program positively and reported that recess was safer and more fun since Playworks was introduced. School staff and students also agreed that students learned new skills through the program. School staff at all schools overwhelmingly reported that they valued play in a school setting and hoped to have the program return to their school in the following school year.

  • Principals at all but one school were eager to retain Playworks, but 5 of 17 schools were unable to keep it for a second year, mostly due to funding limitations.

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