Debbie Rhea

Improving Education Through the Power of Playtime

Professor of Kinesiology and Associate Dean for Health Sciences and Research
Creator of The LiiNK Project

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Debbie Rhea believes the best way to help students learn is to let them play. That’s why she developed the LiiNK Project, a pilot program designed to revitalize the American school system by adding more recess breaks. Even in its trial stage, the bold new project is already producing results and making waves in academic circles across the country.

Debbie is a trailblazer.

Inspiration for The LiiNK Project struck Debbie during a six-month sabbatical in Finland, where she examined its school system and how the nation landed atop the world rankings in student performance. The nation of 5.5 million eschews the American model of marathon eight-hour days and keeps the school day to fewer than six hours — including 75 minutes of recess.

“As much as I think we’ve done some things very well in our U.S. schools, some things need change,” says Debbie.

In schools around the country, recess has become more and more a thing of the past. While forgoing playtime may seem practical and allow for more classroom learning time, Debbie says it does more harm than good.

“The more the body sits, the more the brain stays stagnant — and the harder it is for that brain to take in learning.”

Debbie returned to Texas with passion to implement a similar structure in local schools, launching her pilot program with kindergarten and first-graders on two campuses: Fort Worth’s independent Trinity Valley School and TCU’s College of Education lab school, Starpoint School.

With The LiiNK project, students receive four 15-minute recess breaks each day (two before lunch and two after), instead of just one.

To curb bullying and help improve self-esteem, students also take part in a character-building curriculum called Positive Action three times a week.

After only four months in action, the promise of The LiiNK Project is already clear. Students’ listening skills improved 23 percent, and off-task behaviors like fidgeting and talking off-cue to others declined markedly. So did misbehavior during recess.

Students in The LiiNK Project also were more productive. They had an easier time refocusing after recess, and academic performance on reading and math significantly increased from the previous year.

Both Trinity Valley and Starpoint will continue following The LiiNK Project method, adding one grade level to the study in 2014-15 and more grades each year after that, up to ninth grade.

Debbie has now expanded the LiiNK Project into four elementary schools across two public school districts as of fall 2015: Irving ISD and Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD.

“I wholeheartedly believe in The LiiNK Project,” says Debbie. “And the data backs me up. This system really has the promise to change our schools.”