(TNS) — At the sound of a whistle, four teams of kids raced across a grassy field at Frank West Elementary School on Thursday, dribbling soccer balls to a cone at the far end of the field.
Crowds of screaming and shouting kids cheered on their teammates as they tore down the field in the torch-pass style warm-up, except on this day, the cone isn't just a cone: It represents Neptune, the very farthest planet from the sun.
The squads of students are not just playing soccer — they're giving up part of their lunch hour to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), while getting a little exercise at the same time.
On other days, kids are assigned numbers and given simple equations directing them onto their teams on the field, or handed worksheets after gameplay to pair up with the topic of the day.
"The game today was Race to Outer Space, and we're basically teaching the kids STEM in a different atmosphere," said Ryan Rodriguez, a coach for the Coast 2 Coast Coaching soccer program. "Not all kids stand out in the classroom, but if you put a soccer ball in front of them, it's amazing what they can do."
Coast 2 Coast programs are nothing new to Bakersfield City School District — they've been running after-school soccer games in the district for three years, Coast 2 Coast Coaching Founder Chris Murphy said. It was only this year that campuses began mirroring that program during lunch recess.
The noon-time program, implemented in nearly all Bakersfield City School District campuses this year, emphasizes STEM while helping stymie lunch recess behavioral issues, administrators said. So far, it's working.
"Most of the behavioral (issues) happen outside the classroom on the playground," Frank West Elementary School Principal Yvonne Lopez said. "Lunch is a time when, if you don't have any structures in place, it's a time for them to misbehave. But once you have structures in place, they don't seem to ... and Coast 2 Coast is one of those structures."
Since introducing the lunchtime program, disciplinary referrals decreased by 79 percent. Frank West Elementary has logged just three referrals this year. Nobody has been suspended, Lopez added.
Districtwide, at least two other campuses are seeing success with the soccer games, with Leo G. Pauly Elementary School's disciplinary referrals dropping 31 percent, and College Heights Elementary School's plummeting by 74 percent.
That improvement is attributed to the overall implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which the soccer program falls under, district officials said.
The program also aligns with Local Control Accountability Plan goals of lowering suspension rates, Lopez said.
But more importantly, it builds teamwork among students, she said.
"One of the things we're trying to teach our students is team building," Lopez said. "You need to have sportsman like conduct on and off the field."
©2016 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.