School officials across Faulkner County are debating whether to apply for a new one-year pilot program regarding additional recess time for students.

The state initiative, the Extended Recess Pilot, is part of a 2017 Arkansas law for the 2018-19 school year, which gives students kindergarten through sixth grade unstructured physical activity during school hours.

Arkansas Department of Education’s Anna Haver said it is currently accepting applications from schools across the state to participate. The deadline to submit is March 16.

She said 32 schools — two from each education service co-op and two that are not within those — would be chosen and notified by April 6.

The pilot program refers to Act 1062 of 2017, which states that  students within chosen schools will participate in at least 60 minutes of unstructured time — in which students are not required to engaged in a specific activity — of play each day for kindergarten through fourth and at least 45 minutes for fifth and sixth graders.

The 45 and 60 minutes may not be combined with the required minimum 40 minutes per week of physical education classes, Haver said.

According to a memo sent out by Johnny Key, ADE commissioner, schools will receive training and assistance to prepare for the upcoming pilot year. Approved schools will be required to submit regular reports by each classroom teacher, one building administrator and any other staff supervising the recess to the ADE School Health Services office.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children and adolescents receive 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily,” the memo reads in part. “In addition to physical and mental health benefits achieved through physical activity, research has shown that physical activity can also help children to improve concentration, memory, and classroom behavior.”

Haver said that’s what the department is hoping to see: physical and academic benefits in students.

Some districts in Faulkner County are weighing the pros and cons of the program including Conway, Guy-Perkins and Vilonia schools.

Guy-Perkins Superintendent Shade Gilbert said officials there are considering the initiative.

Right now, students get the state requirement of physical activity. Gilbert said that the studies he has been read seem to include a lot of benefits, but he is trying to compare those against the “lack of time on task."

“We’re weighing which one is going to give us the best [outcome] for our kids,” he said.

Superintendent David Stephens said Vilonia School District has had conversations about it but are not pursuing the program right now.

It boils down to where they can find the extra time up, he said, noting that  everyone, including teachers, already have “pretty full schedules."

Heather Kendrick, Conway’s communication specialist, said the district’s elementary schools are looking at the application as well.

“It’s a great opportunity for the schools who are chosen,” she said.

An informational webinar will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Those interested can register to participate at zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Pie-Td4cRleRKHWYRt1Zdw.