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05-05-03: Listening is big part of job for local recess monitors
Standard Correspondent
    A little girl approached, eyes filled with tears, on the playground at Parkway Elementary School in Rockford during the lunch recess one day last week, and school aide Angie Thomas was ready. The girl showed Thomas her terrible injury, which was a scrape on her knee just barely visible to the human eye.
    "You're not bleeding anywhere," Thomas said with a pat and a smile. "I think you're going to be all right."
    Reassured, the little girl ran back to her friends. And Thomas saved the district one more Band-Aid.
    "If you send in every one, they would be non-stop busy inside," Thomas said. "If you just listen to them when they show you their hurt, they're usually okay with that."
    Thomas, a substitute aide who was working at Parkway on Tuesday, and fellow aide Sally Jo Bolenbaugh were riding herd over the recess range, two adults standing tall in a kids' world. Recess duty is part of their working day, three times a day, and they said they love it.
    "It keeps you young," said Bolenbaugh, who has been working at the district for 19 years.
    When she's not helping out at recess, she works in the high school library and in the elementary school office.
   "Out on the playground, you kind of stay in the background, and let them do their thing. If you see an argument, then you step in," she said.
    The aides deal with scraped knees and hurt feelings, lost balls and football rules. They freeze in the winter and bake in the early fall, and do it all through the joyful cacophony of children playing. Thomas, a mother of three, began working for the district this year and loves it all, including recess duty.
    "I don't feel like it's a job, it's so much fun," she said.
    On the playground, an adult has to have a keen eye and a soothing way, they said. There are disputes to be settled nearly every day, but the aides said they try not to get in the middle of arguments that the kids should be able to work out themselves.
    "Usually, if you can get one to say he's sorry, we're good to go," Thomas said.
    Kids swirled around them, playing tag and chasing each other. Occasionally one stopped to talk or to deliver a quick, tight squeeze. Thomas said that it is not a job for anyone who has issues with their personal space.
    "They all like to have a hug," she said. "There's one little guy who comes running right up to hug you. He'll mow you down if you're not standing tight."
    Recess is nearly as important in the school day as the classes, said Parkway Elementary Principal Michelle Duncan.
    "It's extremely important for kids to get that energy released before they settle back down to their work," she said.
    Having the aides on recess duty gives teachers more free time during the day to prepare for their next class or to take care of other details, she added.
    At St. Henry Elementary School, teachers still take turns on recess duty. But they are assisted by the district's health and safety aide, Deb Hemmelgarn. Hemmelgarn is out at every recess. As a trained paramedic who has been part of St. Henry's volunteer emergency squad for 10 years, she brings a trained eye to the playground.
    "We just do whatever we can do to keep them safe," Hemmelgarn said.
    If there is an accident, she's able to assess the injuries and begin treatment as necessary.
    Most days, she's dealing with problems that don't require her medical training.
    "They're not letting me play," a little boy told her on Thursday afternoon, pointing to a group of boys with a football.
    "Let's go see what's the problem," Hemmelgarn said.
    She walked over to the boys. "Boys, can he play?" she asked.
    "Sure," they said, and resumed the game with one more player.
    Recess is much the same as when her own three children were younger, Hemmelgarn said.
    "Kids play tag, or boys chase girls or girls chase boys," she said. "There's always a touch football game, and kids play four-square."
    In the winter, it gets cold out on the playground, she said. The kids, who are running and jumping, aren't usually bothered by the weather. But adults, standing and watching, feel the wind cut through them.
    "A friend of mine who's a teacher loaned me a long down coat to use this winter," Hemmelgarn said. "It was great."
    Even with the long, cold winters and the glaring sun in August, it's a great job, the aides said. At Parkway, Bolenbaugh said she doesn't want to do anything else.
    "You couldn't ask for better people to work with," she said. "This is the best job in the world, as far as I'm concerned."


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