Gimme a break: Asheville Middle School kids need a high-quality recess

All right everybody. Fasten your seat belts, because I’m not going to sugarcoat this.

Attention all you cyclists, tennis players, golfers, walkers, hikers, runners, rowers, gardeners! Or anyone who likes to go outside for any reason as a break in your day when you have the chance! Yeah, you: LISTEN UP! Asheville Middle School students no longer get to go outside for a midday break. Some of them are up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus and don’t get home till 4:30. Then they have homework and dinner, and for various reasons (including, sometimes, safety), many can’t or don’t go outside after that.

It’s IMPERATIVE that kids have a midday break from instruction. Recess before lunch can help to reset their biological clocks, resulting in improved memory and learning, enhanced brain development and better sleep. A high-quality recess before lunch can lower obesity rates, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes while improving mental health — all of which makes for happier kids! Meanwhile, North Carolina has the fifth-highest child-obesity rate in the country.

Nobody wants to return to something that didn’t work before. We want a high-quality recess that, above all, is SAFE. All kids should get the chance to socialize with friends in a fun, age-appropriate manner. A high-quality recess encourages this through playing soccer, basketball, Hula-Hoop, Frisbee, tag and so on. Of course there must be excellent conflict management and consistent expectations in all areas of the playground at all times. No verbal or physical intimidation of any kind can be permitted. How else can kids learn what’s expected of them? Don’t they all deserve that chance? If money is an issue, there are resources such as grants, local nonprofits and parents who want to volunteer. Why can’t we at least try to do recess the right way for these kids?

The decision to eliminate recess, I was told, was made due to behavioral issues in years past and because the time spent walking to and from the playground was considered wasted. Some people say things have gotten better this year, and I don’t doubt that, on the surface, that may even be true. But can’t we keep the good parts of the remedy, throw out the really bad parts and bring in the ingredients that will give these kids a chance to shine? Because even though things seem quieter now, I am quite certain we’ve merely swept some problems under the rug that will re-emerge in more serious and harmful ways down the road.

I know some parents would like to find a way to have a safe, well-supervised, high-quality recess break for these kids, but for now, I’ve seen no evidence that the issue is being reconsidered. Meanwhile, schools in other areas with far greater problems have recently brought back recess after many years with good results.

Here’s my challenge to each and every one of you who loves the outdoors, sunny days, views of mountains aflame with fall colors — or who cares about happy kids: Don’t go out for your daily run, your dog walk, your tennis or golf game, your bike ride or hike in the woods. Don’t go grab a cup of tea or walk across the street for a hot dog. Bring your cold lunch to work, and DON’T YOU DARE set foot outside that door for one lousy minute until you’ve signed our petition, “Recess Success at AMS” (http://avl.mx/n8), so we can at least get this issue back on the table for a real discussion.

Signing the petition takes no time and costs nothing; there’s no request for donations. And if you do go outside for any reason whatsoever without signing, I hope you think about every single one of Asheville Middle School’s kids every second that you’re out there, who don’t get to arrange their schedule the way you do.

Leslie Poplawski is the mother of a student at Asheville Middle School.

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