As parents worked to eliminate punitive school discipline practices in Chicago public elementary students, they began to see that children who were denied recess or other breaks for physical activity during the day were more likely to act out in class, detracting from their learning. Upon more research, they discovered that, in 2005, 82% of Chicago elementary schools didn’t have recess at all. Furthermore, the schools without recess were primarily located in low-income communities of color, where childhood obesity was also an issue.

Parents made bringing recess to elementary schools a priority, and after years of organizing and advocacy with the Recess for All! campaign, they won the return of recess for all 266,000 Chicago public elementary students in 2012 – expanding that victory to the whole state of Illinois in 2021!

The goal of the Health, Food, and Recess Campaign is to eliminate health disparities for children and families of color in Illinois.

Parent leaders have gone on to work on a range of other health-related concerns, including the effects of trauma on children and families’ mental health, environmental and food quality issues in schools, and food insecurity.

Major highlights and victories

2022: Parents engage in participatory research on maternal and children’s mental health and trauma, holding over 1,000 conversations with families about their mental health challenges, how they are dealing with them, and what changes they recommend.

2021: Parents celebrate the signing of legislation that mandates 30 minutes of recess for all Illinois elementary school children and prohibits withholding of recess as punishment.

2015: Thanks to parents’ advocacy, legislation is signed that expands SNAP benefits (food stamps) to 40,000 Illinois families.

2013: Parents combine forces with Greater Chicago Food Depository and Illinois No Kid Hungry Campaign to end food insecurity for low-income families, going door-to-door to inform communities of free summer meal sites.

2012: Chicago Public Schools reinstates recess for all 266,000+ elementary school students!

2011: A POWER-PAC parent is appointed by the governor to the newly created Statewide Recess Task Force, which recommends reinstating recess throughout Illinois.

2005-2007: POWER-PAC kick off the Recess for All! campaign with a street theater press conference in 2005. By 2007, parents identify legislative allies and introduce a bill to mandate recess statewide. POWER-PAC bring 100 parents and children to Springfield to lobby their legislators and testify in legislative hearings.

A woman wearing a bright red shirt conducts outreach for free summer meals


  • Reinstate recess and breaks, including more physical education in school days.
  • Build allies in the children’s health community, especially among those working to address childhood obesity.
  • Actively ensure implementation of recess.
  • Engage in other health justice issues including access to healthy foods, improved school environments, ending food insecurity, universal breakfast, and community walkability.
  • Expand mental wellness and social-emotional health of children and families

Publications and recent news

It’s so important that children have recess during the day to take a mental break and return refreshed and refocused to their classes. We have heard stories from parents across the state that recess has been taken away as a punishment for entire classes of children for minor things. We are very excited that we won change on this after working on it for many years.

Esmeralda Martinez

POWER-PAC IL Health, Food, and Recess Campaign Co-Chair