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baltimoresun.com

Middle schoolers need recess

9:45 AM EDT, September 27, 2011

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There also is a huge difference in psychological, physiological and sociological development between the needs of middle schoolers and adults ("Roland Park parents push for middle-school recess," Sept. 23). Developmentally we know that middle schoolers are beginning to show characteristics of young adult development — yet importantly they are still children in many ways.

I taught middle school for years. One of the places the balance between young adult characteristics and appropriate child like behavior was clearly on display was the middle school dances. I'll never forget chaperoning at my first middle school dance — suddenly, after the kids had given their best effort at dancing, the entire group emptied the dance floor and ran out to the playground. The boys would separate off from the girls and each group would run to the swings, or four square, or the climbing bars.

The point of this story about the middle school dance is that they are not adults. Middle schoolers waffle between more adult-like characteristics and child-appropriate behaviors. They need play time; they are not socially developed adults.

Compounding the problems in designing schools for young people, there is no self-representation when it comes to policy in middle schools. All decisions are made by adults. The administration at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School has made some great decisions. Everyone applauds Roland Park Middle School's focus on excellence. The principal, the teachers, and the staff are commended for that. It is an excellent school academically — but let's not stop there.

Now, with excellence as a priority, and achievement in place, how are the affective needs of Roland Park's students being met? If kids routinely get one P.E. period every few days and no recess every day, this is out of balance. Affective needs are just as important as academic needs. The two must be in balance.

Consider the work-life of our president, Barack Obama. Our own president works out in the gym every single day of his work week. He takes that time every day; it is scheduled. And I might add he takes many breaks during his busy weeks for pick-up basketball games. I can't imagine a better example for the blending of priorities and conflicting needs. President Obama embodies the most rigorous work ethic, academic excellence, and sound physical maintenance with a workout every day. Is time wasted in his workout? He asks all of his staff to pursue some form of scheduled physical activity every day. Staffers who initially scoffed at the idea embrace it now and report improved ability to perform their work-a-day jobs and improved sense of well-being.

A middle schooler can be controlled, he can be forced to sit all day; she can be forced to work all day at her desk. Middle schoolers could be forced to work all day at adult jobs, too; we needed legislation to stop that. That took hundreds of years of abuse before enough people recognized that as being out of balance. Furthermore, that same student can pass a standardized test, even get flying colors on the test, and still fail any number of reasonable measurements for enjoyment, self motivation, health and wellness. There is a trade off. And 20 minutes out of a six or seven hour day is not asking too much. Our society is largely out of balance regarding these essential principles, and we are teaching this fractured way of being to our children. Any number of indicators show us this is true, and childhood obesity is one of them.

This out of balance approach to life is mainstream and is sadly part of the accepted culture of our schools and our work world. I would hope Roland Park Elementary/Middle School would take the lead in making its school one of the truly outstanding by honoring age-old truths about physical and mental well being grounded in a truly balanced approach to life. I urge 20 minutes recess out of a seven-hour work day.

Sam Sommers, Rochester, N.Y.