Need for middle school recess is a no-brainer

Hudson's Corner

October 06, 2011

Since the spring, I have heard about the flap over the absence of middle school recess at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. Recess is a no-brainer.

When I volunteered to work with middle school children there last year, they were bright, alert and well prepared. By the end of our session, they were wiggly and wanting to talk to one another. They were pre-teens. They were not on cell phones; they were not trying to start fights. They were simply adolescent and restless.

I am no educator. I am not even a mother, but I have had a slew of neighborhood children, nieces, nephews and godchildren doing homework, art and writing projects in this house. I have been a tutor and a camp counselor of adolescents.

The attention span of most preteens seems shorter than 70 minutes. As I understand it, that is the length of classes at Roland Park Elementary/Middle and the main reason middle schoolers there cannot have recess.

It is commendable how well rated this public school is; in fact, it was named a Blue Ribbon school by the state.

I experienced that quality of education last spring. I was asked to teach, because a woman, older than I, and who had gone to my high school, ran the writing program. I asked her how long classes had been at our old school. Forty minutes, she said. That is still generally the case in the middle school at our alma mater, Roland Park Country School.

I do not understand why classes across the street need to be almost twice as long. Parents are asking to shorten those classes by just five minutes to make time for recess. That would not seem to jeopardize academic quality, and it might well enhance student attention and motivation.

If disruption as students move through the halls to recess is an issue, then recess could be a privilege. If disruption occurs, recess would be canceled for everyone. Peer pressure builds in middle school. Administrators might make that work to everyone's advantage.

With the alarming rate of childhood obesity, it is also a no-brainer that schools should want to provide more physical movement. It seems like the smart thing to do, not only for the short run of student lives in middle school, but also for the long run. Habits form early. If physical education had not been a daily part of my life growing up, I am not sure exercise would still be such an important part of my daily routine.

I am a writer. I do research. I interview people. I sit and write most of the day. I am fortunate that I work on the third floor. I go up and down steps often. By relaxing my mental muscle regularly during the day, I think better and I am more productive. Many corporations have exercise rooms. The president of the United States exercises every day and asks his staff to do the same.

Regardless of political persuasion, no one can argue that setting such an example is a good thing to do in a country fighting obesity.

Old habits die hard. Again, that is the good news. If a productive, well-educated citizenry is a goal for teachers and parents, prioritizing physical activity is a must.

I read that at Roland Park Elementary/Middle, trained supervisors and money are issues. I am confident that parents could raise the money, but why should a school system not fund recess? No equipment is necessary. If supervisors need training, surely volunteer parents could take whatever classes might be required to make them suitable playground supervisors in the eyes of the "system."

If educators are interested in the whole child, then the mind-body connection must be addressed. It seems like a no-brainer. It also seems smart, smart as a blue-ribbon school.

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