School aides to be moved to cafeterias Shift from classrooms is indirect result of latest contract

Up to 3 hours a day

Elementary teachers freed from coverage at lunch and recess

August 09, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Many Howard County elementary schools will be forced to move instructional assistants out of their classrooms and into cafeterias and playgrounds for up to three hours a day this fall, an indirect result of the school system's latest contract with the teachers' union.

The contract freed elementary teachers from lunch and recess duties to give them more time to plan instruction.

But with no money set aside in the school system's budget to hire lunch and recess aides, instructional assistants are the only alternative for most schools -- and many educators worry about the effect on the classroom.

"The kids need us in the classroom, not the cafeteria," said Hattie Myers, an instructional assistant in her 25th year at Atholton Elementary School. "Which is more important, children's education or lunch and recess duty?"

This week, with many schools finalizing plans for how they will manage cafeterias and playgrounds, the school system held two days of paid training for instructional assistants about lunch supervision.

As 90 staff members from more than a dozen elementaries gathered for the training, it became clear that the change in lunch and recess supervision will aggravate existing inequities between large and small Howard schools. Larger schools can spread duties among more instructional assistants.

The question of who will supervise lunch and recess emerged this spring in the school system's contract with the Howard County Education Association (HCEA).

School officials were unable to offer much of a salary increase to school employees, so they instead agreed to a long-sought change in working conditions for elementary teachers -- eliminating required lunch and recess duty.

In recent years, elementary teachers typically supervised three lunch or recess shifts a week -- often eliminating in-school planning time on those days -- while middle and high school teachers have planning time set aside each day.

Additional planning time for elementary teachers was identified last fall as a critical need by a school system study of "curriculum overload."

The problem with the later agreement to free teachers from lunch and recess duties was that no provision was put in place for who would take on those duties.

The agreement with the teachers' union was reached so late in the budget process last spring -- and the budget proposal was so tight -- that there was no way to find the $350,000 to $400,000 it would take to hire part-time lunch and recess aides.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey has said he hopes to put funding for such assistants in his budget for the 1997-1998 school year. Both Carroll and Montgomery counties hire part-time employees to supervise lunch periods.

In the meantime, Howard elementaries were left with few options. A few have been able to trade in a vacant instructional assistant position to hire lunch and recess aides, and at least one -- Elkridge Elementary -- raised enough money in a pizza sale last spring to hire aides to help out.

But most schools say they will turn to the county's more than 200 elementary instructional assistants, whose duties include helping teachers with clerical duties and working with small groups of children -- particularly special education pupils who need individual attention.

For example, at Thunder Hill Elementary School, the nine instructional assistants will be divided into teams of three who will rotate through two weeks of lunch and recess duty and one week off, said Assistant Principal Nancy Esmond.

She said that having the same people supervise lunch every day will improve cafeteria management, but she acknowledged that losing instructional assistants' time in the classroom will be difficult.

Officials at several other schools say they are planning similar schedules -- and just about everyone says they hope this year is only a temporary solution.

"The changes can't be anything but harmful to instruction," said HCEA President Karen Dunlop. "There simply has to be money found to hire lunch and recess assistants. The instructional assistants can't do it all."

Dunlop also said she worries about the effects on instructional assistants who spend three hours a day in cafeterias, comparing the duty to "supervising a three-hour birthday party every day of your life."

To help instructional assistants adjust to the cafeteria duty -- and to make elementary lunchtime a bit less rambunctious -- the school system expanded its cafeteria management class this summer and offered to pay staff members who wanted to attend.

In a course called "Positive Cafeteria Management," Howard's staff development office spent two days this week helping schools plan ways of handling what typically is the rowdiest period of the elementary day.

Suggestions ranged from dimming the lights and playing instrumental music to hanging artwork on the walls and awarding small prizes to lunch tables with the best behavior.

"Lunch duty doesn't have to be a terrible thing," said Tina Murphy, an instructional assistant at Laurel Woods Elementary School who helped lead the two days of lessons.

"My job as an instructional assistant is to back up the teacher and be the foundation, to hold up the system. If this year they want me to help them out by taking lunch duty and giving them planning time, then that's what I have to do."

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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