SPENCER MICHELS: In the playgrounds of inner-city schools throughout the country, recess can be chaotic, so unruly, in fact, that some schools have eliminated or shortened it.
When it's disorganized and unsupervised, kids wander aimlessly, bullying is commonplace, putdowns are part of playground life, arguments become fights.
That's the way it used to be at this Oakland, California, school and others. Working on the schoolyard today, Bryant Kicks says a few years ago things were far different.
BRYANT KICKS, Sports4Kids coach: Chaotic. You know, there may be games being played, but they're not necessarily the safest games being played. So if there's a soccer game going, there are still kids running through the game. It's more of a pushing and shoving match.
SPENCER MICHELS: The national emphasis on academic achievement is another reason recess is under threat. Some educators argue that time or money put into play periods takes away from teaching the three R's. But eliminating or cutting back the fourth R, recess, outrages Jill Vialet.
JILL VIALET, founder, Sports4Kids: What we know is that kids who get recess do perform better academically.
SPENCER MICHELS: She founded Sports4Kids, a nonprofit that supplies full-time coaches to 170 mostly inner-city elementary schools across the country to organize and run recess.
JILL VIALET: They serve as sort of a proxy for the older kids of yore, and they basically are going into the school environment and they're teaching the kids the rule, the culture of play, the rules of the game, and it changes the whole school dynamic.
SPENCER MICHELS: She believes playtime is essential, a vital tool that helps, not hinders, academic performance.
JILL VIALET: It makes it possible for teachers to really focus on what they do best and our person can take responsibility for the culture that envelops that, the wraparound services that makes schools work really well.
SPENCER MICHELS: Horace Mann School in Oakland pays $23,500 a year for the program, which actually costs about $50,000. The rest comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also a NewsHour funder.
This school is 55 percent Latino, 35 percent African-American, and the income level is low. The coach keeps the kids playing games, like soccer or four square or Double Dutch, and settling disputes.
BRYANT KICKS: These kids, I feel like maybe the environment that they live in, it's just more anger. They get angry, to start off with. And they want to push or shove or yell to see who's the person who gets to control the game, whereas we want to make it -- you know, anybody can play any game, no matter what shape or size you are, and just make it a safe environment.
SPENCER MICHELS: Alanna Lim, the principal at Horace Mann, chose to use the program because of what it does both in the schoolyard...
ALANNA LIM, school principal: Right now, doing yard duty is almost a piece of cake. There's hardly any problems. I mean, I have to say, I don't think we've had one single fight this year outside on the yard.
SPENCER MICHELS: ... and in the classroom.
ALANNA LIM: The teachers spend less time dealing with the problems on the playground in the classroom, so that means more instructional minutes right off the bat. The kids come back more refreshed.