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.