George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Montpelier High School

Grades 9-12 | Montpelier, VT

Recess for High School Students

Last year, Montpelier High shifted its schedule to free up 15 minutes -- for recess. Teachers and students find they are more calm and focused, with a camaraderie that continues into the classroom.

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Recess for High School Students (Transcript)

Bill: Eighty-five minute classes are a long time for most kids, so having that little break in there in the afternoon has really helped our kids re-energize, and teachers as well.

MHS Unplugged is recess, but we wanted to give it a theme name so that the idea of unplugging yourself from the curriculum, unplugging yourself from stress, unplugging yourself from electronics just becomes the main focus of the fifteen minutes per day that we offer MHS Unplugged. Students and faculty come up with activities that they would like to offer during that time.

William: Recess is kind of interesting for a high school. It's a nice way to relax in between your classes and kind of get out some of your tiredness. There's art stuff, you know, you can play board games.

Bill: We really make a point to say, "You have permission and you need to stop what you're doing and do something totally different, something that's mindful, challenging, something that creates community, something that creates generosity." Sometimes by doing an activity with that kid that is having a tough time in your class, there's a connection that's made, it's very powerful.

Tom: Nice, that was nice. Jon, you throw something out.

Student: F, C, C sharp, F sharp.

Jon: It's a good time to just mellow out and just clear your head from the schoolwork that you're doing. Other times, I'll go to the gym and play basketball or I'll go outside and play lacrosse, or I'll meditate.

Teacher: All right, you all ready?

Student: Yes, shh, you just have to be quiet.

Meditation Recording: Lie in the posture of savasana. Take three full deep breaths and with the exhalation, feel a sense of letting go. The whole face is becoming soft. Feel the shoulders sinking into the floor.

Student: Thank you.

Student: Thank you.

Teacher: Of course, thank you.

Bill: There's this community happening and relationships are fostered because folks who normally don't see each other all day get together for fifteen minutes.

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MHS Unplugged: Recess for High School Students

MHS Unplugged is a 15-minute recess period every day for all Montpelier High School students. Recess includes activities that are student- or teacher-led, like yoga, meditation, Frisbee, basketball, jam band, and art projects. Students unplug from the curriculum, from stress, and from electronics during these 15 minutes. The short break provides them an opportunity to connect with one another and teachers in a new way, and as a result, students feel more productive and more connected to the school community.

How It's Done

How It's Done


MHS Unplugged is coordinated by one of the faculty members, Bill Laidlaw, who is a special educator at the school.


When MHS reorganized their schedule into 85-minute blocks, they found that they had an extra 15 minutes every day, and wondered what to do with this small block of time. MHS Unplugged was created. Recess is scheduled between the third and fourth blocks, at around 1:15 PM.

Students or teachers can suggest and lead activities. When a student suggests and wants to lead an activity, Bill makes sure there will be faculty supervision and involvement. He also makes sure there is a room for the activity, so if a student wants to do theater improvisation, he investigates whether the auditorium is available during that time. If a teacher wants to lead basketball, the gym should be available. Activities can also vary depending on the weather. When it's nice out, students like to be outdoors for Frisbee, or a 15-minute workout, or a walk around the school grounds.

Advertising: The MHS Board

There is a central board in the main hallway of the school where all MHS Unplugged activities are listed along with the rooms where they take place. Students just check the board that day and go to one of the activities. They're free to choose something different each day.

Typically, activities last about four weeks, and then new ones are placed on the board. Some activities might be repeated if there's enough interest.


Activities have included:

  • Knitting
  • Meditation
  • Theater improvisation
  • Yoga
  • Frisbee
  • Soccer
  • Board games
  • Jam band
  • Graffiti art board
  • 15-minute workout
  • Basketball
  • "Walk + talk" (taking a walk on the school grounds).

True to the program's name, activities do not include anything computer- or electronics-based. "Unplugged" really does mean unplugged.


Bill sometimes finds that he needs to encourage students and teachers to suggest and lead activities. The whole thing won't work without participation from all involved. Occasionally there are slow periods when only a few activities are offered, and Bill pushes for more suggestions.

There are also times when students want to use those 15 minutes to make phone calls or study for a test in the library. However, the school really does encourage students to use this time for unwinding. As Bill says, "You have permission and you need to stop what you're doing, and do something totally different, totally challenging. Something that's mindful, something that creates community, something that creates generosity."


One of the best outcomes of implementing MHS Unplugged has been the community that it's built among the teachers and students. Relationships are fostered because those who normally don't see one another all day now have an opportunity to do something together. Sometimes, teachers and students are also able to build a relationship outside of class, which helps to strengthen what happens in class. There's a connection made when teachers and students get to know one another better, and there's a sense of caring and community in the school.

Students and teachers also report coming back for the rest of the day more energized. Those 15 minutes serve as a break that reinvigorates all involved.


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a.contrada's picture

Is 15 minutes long enough for students to engage in an activity, then get back to their period 4 class on time?

Evelyn Krieger's picture
Evelyn Krieger
YA author, educational consultant, homeschool advocate

While this is a step in the right direction, it saddens me that students are allotted only 15 minutes during their school day for this type of relaxation and connection. After school is likely to be filled with homework, studying, and extra-curriculars.

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