My Cause

Jill Vialet is Making Recess Fun Again

by Katie Morrell

The Cause: Playworks is changing the culture of recess for elementary schools nationwide—from toxic and isolating to inclusive and fun. With 700 staffers working out of 23 offices, the Oakland-based nonprofit serves 700,000 students per year in more than 1,800 schools, dispatching on-site coaches who create a culture of play. It also trains existing school staff to encourage Playworks principles that develop norms for conflict resolution and community. By December 2020, the organization aims to help 3.5 million children in 7,000 schools experience safe and healthy play on a daily basis.

Founder: Jill Vialet

Budget: $50 million per year

Key Supporters: Walter and Elise Haas Sr. Fund; S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; Einhorn Family Charitable Trust; The Jenesis Group; Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

Inspiration: The idea for Playworks came to Vialet, formerly the founder of Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Arts, in 1995, when visiting a school to chat about its art program. “I remember the principal was running late and emerged with three little boys in tow, all looking miserable,” she says. “She was upset and told me that the boys aren’t bad, but because of recess their identities were starting to turn bad. She asked if I could help.”

The Impact: Playworks has had profoundly positive impacts on the lives of students. “A few years ago a study found that with our program, kids feel safer throughout the day, and we know that feeling safe is fundamental to being able to learn,” says Vialet. “Studies have also shown an increase in physical activity, and that kids come back from recess ready to learn. One of our biggest findings was that 42 percent of teachers reported less bullying at Playworks schools than in schools that didn’t have Playworks.”

Get Involved: Playworks relies on volunteers—individuals, groups and corporations. Individuals can train as volunteer coaches, and the organization will train corporations and bring them for “play days” at schools. Tickets are available for Playworks’ yearly gala, scheduled for May 10 at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. For more info, visit playworks.org.

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