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Recess with a purpose | Beloved guest educator specializes in 'social play'

Coach Travis Evans is reintroducing kids to skills disrupted because of the pandemic.

MINNEAPOLIS — As summer break approaches, educators are reflecting on what worked well with students this past year, and at one southeast Minneapolis elementary school, they point to a person.

Every Wednesday, Coach Travis Evans comes to Marcy Arts Magnet Elementary School.

"My title? I'm going to give you the title I like," Evans told KARE 11. "'The steward of fun.'"

Technically a program specialist for nonprofit Playworks, Evans shows classrooms how to play games that get more challenging each round. Visits last 30 minutes and occur during class time so that students are able to implement what they've learned during recess and other play times.

"Play is a very important thing, right? That's where you learn those social skills," Evans said. "That's where you have those interpersonal interactions."

Yet for some time, play and the skills that come with it were disrupted because of the pandemic. 

"You very much see it," Evans said. "Students probably not able to self-regulate like they once was. Students not able to, you know, work alongside each other like they used to."

That's why the games Evans sets up are heavy on student engagement, empowerment, and conflict resolution. For example, he encourages students to play rock paper scissors when they face disagreements like whose turn it is or who was first in line.

Teachers are also active participants so they can repeat the games when Evans isn't there.

"It goes back to that building relationships with students," he said. "When something does happen in the classroom, a behavior needs to be redirected, the student is that much more open to hear that critique, that feedback, because we play jump rope together."

Playworks currently partners with 60 Minnesota elementary schools, reaching nearly 20,000 students.

Minneapolis business Twelve Consulting Group is funding the program at Marcy this school year and has committed to bringing Evans back this fall.

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