Our district’s focus on wellness and balance, our stated mission to prepare young people not simply to get into a competitive college but to lead lives of “joy and purpose,” has been generally met with overwhelming support by our community. Nevertheless, I inevitably get the question: “How can we change the competitive pressure our students feel when the college admissions process continues to apply it?
Wellness and Balance was the first of the five goals identified last Spring by our Strategic Planning Steering Committee. At a time when there is national concern about historically high levels of stress and competition among high school students, Wellness and Balance is about redefining success and reigniting the joy of learning. It is a goal about reducing anxiety and, at the same time, increasing achievement. It is a goal about slowing our students down so they can actually learn better, play better, feel better.
Recently, the Wellness section of the New York Times, carried an interview with Dawn Scott, the fitness coach for the US Women’s National Soccer Team. The women’s team not only won the World Cup in July but went on to dominate a host of other international competitions throughout the summer. Their ascendance on the world stage begged the question: How did they get so fit?
I was struck by the answer Ms. Scott gave when asked to name the single greatest change she brought to the fitness of the team: “Recovery,” she said.
She then went on to explain: “The American team was already famous for its conditioning. The women had always done a lot of running. But when I came in, they weren’t devoting the same resources to recovery, which I thought was a problem. To me, recovery is such a massive aspect of overall fitness. It’s what prepares you for the next session or game. If you don’t recover, you start the next session tired and that sets you up for poor performance or injury.”
When I read that quote, I thought of our kids. They are amazing students often functioning at a very high level, but they describe themselves as always running. Class to class, activity to activity, event to event, assignment to assignment. How much better might they perform, if we built in time for recovery?
To be sure, the culture of running is in the ethos here. It comes from our community, from the colleges, from the kids themselves. But what can we do as a school system to change the culture? What can we do to inspire our kids to want to run incredibly hard, but also to recognize the need to recover? What can we do to help them slow down enough to prevent injury and, at the same time, optimize their performance physically, artistically, intellectually?
Our district’s focus this year on Wellness is designed to do just that. We have already implemented “Homework Free” periods in our calendar with the intent of providing our students with time throughout the year when they can mentally step away from focusing on homework, projects, and studying for tests. Our hope is that during these “recovery” times students will focus instead on reading for pleasure, spending time with family and friends, enjoying activities outside, and attending concerts, plays and athletic events.
Just as periods of physical recovery allow hard working athletes to bring their performance to an even higher level, so too, does mental recovery allow our students to process what they’ve learned, recharge their creative batteries and raise the level of their academic performance.
The simple truth is that our students learn more, work harder and perform better when they are relaxed, well-rested and personally engaged in their academic experience. Our goal in the Princeton Public Schools is to do all we can to promote those conditions.
Over the course of the next few months, our Action Team on Wellness and Balance will be working to design a blueprint of long-range measures that will build into our culture the recovery, the resiliency, and the relationships that will prepare them to fulfill our mission and to truly lead lives of joy and purpose.
The Princeton Public Schools began the 2015-16 school year not only with new contracts, new excitement, and new students, but with a bold new strategic plan that establishes a clear vision and direction for the future.
The plan begins with a Mission Statement -- a single sentence that represents the core values of our community and our hopes for the students we serve.
“The mission of the Princeton Public Schools is to prepare all students to lead lives of joy and purpose as knowledgeable, creative, and compassionate citizens of a global society.”
Reflect for a moment on the words in that statement that may resonate with you.
ALL students. Every one.
JOY and PURPOSE. Rare and refreshing words in a school mission statement. Nowhere does the mission statement reference getting into an Ivy League college or making a lot of money. A different, larger definition of success is at work here. The goal is for our students to experience joy and meaning in their lives regardless of what pathway they may take -- and to experience it in the present, not at the end of some educational or economic rainbow.
Do we want our students to have extensive and in-depth content knowledge? Absolutely. We also want them to have creativity and compassion. All three are essential -- although not all three can be easily measured.
And finally, in the mission statement, we are explicit about our students becoming citizens of the world -- with all the cultural, linguistic, political and technological understanding that comes with that responsibility.
This mission statement, this single sentence, drives the work that we do and the direction we have established as a district.
So what is the work ahead of us in the next three to five years? We have identified the following five goals for which we are currently developing detailed action plans: