Additional Resources:

Program Profile: Playworks Coach

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on April 03, 2019

Program Summary

This is a program for low-income elementary schools that encourages healthy and meaningful play, delivered by trained coaches. Program components include recess activities, class game time, and after-school activities. This program is rated Promising. There was a small, statistically significant increase in attendance rates for students who participated in Playworks, compared with students who did not participate.

Program Description

Program Goals/Program Components
The Playworks Coach program operates in primarily low-income elementary schools to promote safe and inclusive school environments that allow students to grow, lead, and thrive. Playworks Coach activities are designed to promote physical activity, develop social skills related to cooperation and conflict resolution, improve focus on class work, decrease behavioral problems, and improve school climate.

In the Playworks Coach model, trained “coaches” work in low-income schools, organizing activities during recess and class time. Components of this model include
  • Organized recess activities: Coaches encourage student play by organizing inclusive activities during recess. They use this time to teach conflict-resolution skills, such as “rock-paper-scissors”, with the goal of reducing disagreements and providing the students with tools to resolve disputes by themselves.
  • Class game time: Coaches meet with individual classes to lead games with the students, teaching them the rules to games that they can then play on their own during recess. During this time, teachers are encouraged to play alongside their students.
  • Junior coach program: The junior coach program provides fourth- and fifth-grade students with an opportunity to develop leadership skills and conflict-resolution techniques so that they will serve as role models and facilitators during recess.
  • After-school activities: Coaches may also develop after-school activities, sports leagues, or both.

Target Sites
The program is intended for low-income elementary schools. Any school can access Playworks Coach but schools are eligible for a subsidy if at least 50 percent of enrolled students qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program (FRPL).

Program Theory
Research suggests that participation in physical activity and organized activities during recess is associated with several positive student outcomes, including increased attention, concentration and on-task behavior, better problem-solving skills, decreased aggression and bullying, and improved interpersonal skills (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010; Zygmunt-Fillwalk and Bilello 2005; Leff, Costigan, and Power 2004; Maeda and Randall 2003). In addition, some researchers have contended that because recess is not a structured class, schools should instead focus on providing desirable spaces for unstructured play (Murray et al. 2013). The Playworks program incorporates both perspectives, combining elements of structured and unstructured recess. Coaches organize activities with common rules and separate play spaces; however, students are free to choose which Playworks activity they participate in or can partake in another activity of their choosing (London et al. 2010).

Evaluation Outcomes

top border
Study 1
Student Attendance
Leos-Urbel and Sanchez (2015) found a statistically significant small, positive relationship between Playworks Coach participation and student attendance rate. When compared with the comparison group, Playworks Coach participation was associated with a 0.2 percent increase in student attendance. Aggregated to a school of 450 students, a 0.2 percent increase would translate to more than 150 additional days of attendance among all students during the school year.
bottom border

Evaluation Methodology

top border
Study 1
The quasi-experimental study by Leos-Urbel and Sanchez (2015) focused on elementary schools that participated in Playworks Coach in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) from 2010 to 2013. For a school to be eligible for Playworks Coach, at least 50 percent of enrolled students must qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program (FRPL). The primary outcome of interest was the effect of the Playworks Coach program on absenteeism.

Researchers used longitudinal student-level attendance and demographic data from both SFUSD and OUSD for the 2009–2010 and 2012–2013 academic years matched to school-level data, which indicated whether a school participated in Playworks Coach in a given year. Data for number of school days attended and enrolled was used to calculate the individual student attendance rate (number of days attended divided by number of days enrolled).

Playworks Coach schools were divided into three groups: 1) Pre-Playworks Coach, if the school had not yet participated but would do so in a future year; 2) Playworks Coach, if the school was participating that year; and 3) Post-Playworks Coach, if the school was not participating that year but had participated in a prior year. Other schools, coded as Never Playworks, had never participated in the program. Approximately two thirds of all low-income schools in the SFUSD and the OUSD during the analysis period had participated in Playworks at some point in the past 10 years. Among the 55 schools that participated in Playworks Coach during the 4-year analysis period, the average length of participation was 2.5 years. Nineteen schools (35 percent) participated for all 4 years, and 16 (29 percent) participated for only 1 year.

To construct an appropriate comparison group, the research team used data from schools that were not currently participating in Playworks Coach but had previously participated. Using this design, the research team conducted multivariate regression analyses to estimate the relationship between Playworks Coach and student attendance, while controlling for differences between students in schools that participated in Playworks Coach that year (i.e., the treatment group) and the comparison group of students who did not participate. The treatment group (n = 28,919) included data from 47 schools, and 92.2 percent qualified for FRPL participation. Of this group, 50.1 percent were male, 49.1 percent were female, 47.1 percent were Hispanic, 25.8 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, 15.8 percent were black, 6.2 percent were white, and 5.1 percent identified as other. The comparison group (n = 20,289) included data from 53 schools, and 82.3 percent qualified for FRPL participation. Of this group, 52.9 percent were male, 47.1 were percent were female, 30.4 percent were Hispanic, 27.9 were black, 25.7 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, 11.8 percent were white, and 4.3 identified as other. The study authors conducted subgroup analyses.
bottom border


top border
The Playworks Coach service costs, on average, between $60,000–$65,000 to implement at each school, depending on the region. In addition, public elementary schools and K–8 schools with greater than 50 percent free and reduced price lunch student enrollment are eligible a subsidy of up to 50 percent. More information can be found on the Playworks website:
bottom border

Implementation Information

top border
School interest forms are typically sent out in January of every year. Playworks Coach staff visit potential schools to determine best service fit for the school before final decisions are made in late spring. Playworks coaches, and program managers complete extensive training over the summer before the program starts on the first day of school. Schools are asked to provide a basic set of playground equipment (balls, cones, jump ropes, etc.). More information can be found on the Playworks website:
bottom border

Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

top border
There were several subgroup analyses conducted by Leos-Urbel and Sanchez (2015). As most elementary school students have low rates of absenteeism participation in Playworks Coach would not be expected to significantly improve already high rates of attendance. The researchers conducted additional analyses to examine the relationship between Playworks Coach and school attendance for students with attendance below 95 percent in the prior school year. Findings indicated a statistically significant increase in attendance of 0.3 percent per student per year. Analyses that examined the relationship between Playworks Coach and school attendance for students who were chronically absent the previous year (90 percent attendance rate or less) indicated a slightly larger increase of 0.4 percent, but this was not statistically significant. In addition, subgroup analyses examined the relationship between Playworks Coach for students in grades 1 and 2, and students in grades 3 through 5. Both groups’ attendance rates increased by the same, statistically significant rate of 0.2 percent, suggesting no difference by grade level. The attendance rate for both boys and girls also increased by the same, statistically significant rate of 0.2 percent, suggesting no difference by gender.
bottom border

Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

top border
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Leos-Urbel, Jacob, and Monika Sanchez. 2015. The Relationship Between Playworks Participation and Student Attendance in Two School Districts. Stanford, Calif.: John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.
bottom border

Additional References

top border
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Beyler, Nicholas, Martha Bleeker, Susanne James-Burdumy, Jane Fortson, Rebecca A. London, Lisa Westrich, Katie Stokes-Guinan, and Sebastian Castrechini. 2013. Findings from an Experimental Evaluation of Playworks: Effects on Play, Physical Activity, and Recess. Mathematica Policy Research Reports, Mathematica Policy Research. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2000. “Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports.” Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Leff S.S., T. Costigan, and T.J. Power. 2004. “Using Participator Research to Develop a Playground-Based Prevention Program.” Journal of School Psychology 42:3–21.

London, R.A., L. Westrich, K. Stokes-Guinan, and M. McLaughlin. 2015. “Playing Fair: The Contribution of High-Functioning Recess to Overall School Climate in Low-Income Elementary Schools.” Journal of School Health 85:53–60.

Maeda, J.K., and L.M. Randall. 2003. “Can Academic Success Come from Five Minutes of Physical Activity?” Brock Education 13(1):14–22.

Massey, William V., Megan B. Stellino, Megan Holliday, Travis Godbersen, Rachel Rodia, Greta Kucher, and Megan Wilkison. 2017. “The Impact of a Multi-Component Physical Activity Programme in Low-Income Elementary Schools.” Health Education Journal 76: 517–30. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

Murray R., C. Ramstetter, and Council on School Health Executive Committee. 2013. “The Crucial Role of Recess in School.” Pediatrics 131:183–88.

Zygmunt-Fillwalk, E., and T.E. Bilello. 2005. “Parents’ Victory in Reclaiming Recess for Their Children.” Childhood Education 82(1):19–23.
bottom border

Program Snapshot

Age: 5 - 13

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Afterschool/Recreation, Leadership and Youth Development, School/Classroom Environment

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide, What Works Clearinghouse