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Friends School of Baltimore Private School Blog

Exercise and the Brain

Posted by Anne McGinty, Director of Physical Education on Dec 5, 2017 3:22:47 PM

It’s 9 am and 15 third graders straggle into the gym for physical education class, something students in grades 1-5 do, on average, 3 days a week at our school. (Students in grades 6-12 take phys. ed. once or twice a week.) We form a wide circle and begin a gentle warm up. “Stand with your arms and legs stretched wide apart!” I instruct them, taking a quick inventory of each child’s alertness and energy level. One boy looks like he’s had a rough morning, his eyes are red from crying. Another child is wiggling her hips and grinning from ear to ear. She’s wearing a paper crown covered in stickers (it’s her birthday) and is raring to go.

Today we are working on bilateral brain activity and large motor skills, but the children won’t realize it. They think we’re just going to stack cups in a relay race. I divide the class in groups and blow the start whistle. Instantly, three little bodies fly across the gym floor to their designated stations where they attempt to stack a half dozen colorful plastic cups before racing back to tag the next person in line. The task is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re hurrying. The children laugh and shriek as the cups fall over. Even the child who barely made eye contact earlier is fully engaged. They are having fun. But something else is happening, something important: Their brains are growing, creating new cells, and increasing neural connections.

The importance of exercise in brain function is well documented. Research has shown that regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise improves memory, focus, and mood. This is why schools need to offer physical education classes to students from preschool age to high school. 

And let’s not forget recess! Schools that eliminate recess because they want to build more classroom time into the day are shortchanging students of much-needed stress relief. Whether they recharge their batteries through physical activity or by finding quiet time to read, daydream, or chat with friends, students need recess to help reset their brains. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention touts the importance of “safe and well supervised” recess in improving students’ cognitive, social, emotional, and physical well being.

Back at our relay race the children celebrate their accomplishments. They are flushed and sweaty. One of the teams won the race but it doesn’t seem to matter to the children as they collect their coats and we escort them back to their homeroom teachers who, like the kids, have used their "down" time to regroup and reset the course for a productive day.

 

 

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Topics: exercise and the brain

Building empathy and curiosity in middle school

Posted by Jay Golon, Middle School Principal on Nov 14, 2017 2:16:43 PM

I first encountered “The Middle School Paradox” as a graduate student living in Boston. I was visiting a school when I saw it posted prominently on the wall -- six little words that would change my life.

“Know Thyself. Then, Get Over Thyself.”  

The middle school journey is full of inherent contradictions. On the one hand, we do all we can to instill in our children a robust sense of self. Since the tween years are prime time for discovering who you are, we want to expose our kids to a wide range of hands on learning opportunities and diverse perspectives. At its best, this process develops poets who love to play soccer and violinists who love robotics. In other words, kids who are curious about the world and willing to try on many different “hats.” Hence, “Know Thyself.”

On the other hand, our children must also learn that they are not the center of the world.  Instead, they are a part of several caring communities within communitiesfamily, school, city, class, team – and that through their actions, or their inactions, they have the potential for great positive or negative impacts on others. We want them to gain experience; at the same time, we don’t want them to feel overwhelmed.  Hence, “Get Over Thyself.”

I see these two contradictory forces at work every day in our school.  In one moment, a student might be discovering a love for something they had never tried before. In another moment, I see students setting limits on themselves in order to manage their time effectively; or forced to consider the needs of others. This is never more true than in instances of middle school bullying. Students must question: What is my responsibility when I witness bullying?  What if the person being unkind is my friend?  

Helping children remain true to themselves while being a force for good is not a perfect or easy process. In fact, the developmental bumps during the middle school years are often built-in, so adults need to pay close attention and offer guidance as needed. Still, I like to think that from these contradictions comes great learning and growth.

I invite you to consider how the Middle School Paradox plays out in your own homes.  When have you seen your children experience “Know Thyself” moments?  When have you seen them experience “Get Over Thyself” moments? Share your thoughts.

 

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How can schools foster safe spaces and freedom of expression?

Posted by Heidi Blalock, Director of Communications on Oct 18, 2017 9:39:53 AM

This week we are thrilled to launch our newly reimagined school magazine, simply titled Friends. Among the editorial innovations readers will discover is an opening Query, in which we have posed a compelling question and invited members of the community to weigh in. Their thoughtful (and thought-provoking) responses, excerpted below, represent a wide range of viewpoints and are meant to be just the beginning of the conversation. We invite you to read more and then share your thoughts on the Query using the "Submit Comment" form below. Here, again, is the Query:

How can schools simultaneously foster safe spaces and freedom of expression?

Kaitlin Toner Raimi '02, assistant professor of at the Ford School of Public Policy"I teach at a public policy school, so it's incredibly important that my students engage with the full range of perspectives on controversial topics that they will face after graduation. But it's not easy: In many classes, the students don't come in with a great deal of diversity of political views. And, as my own research has shown, both liberals and conservatives are really skilled at ignoring information that doesn't fit their own worldview (what psychologists call 'motivated reasoning.') ...More 

Deloris Jones, Friends Middle School social studies teacher since 1983: "It would be superb if teaching at a Quaker institution made this question moot. Those unfamiliar with Quaker education may imagine peace and tranquility govern our campuses, and we all wear gray garb Earth Shoes. Perhaps they believe, as my own parents and siblings suppose, that I teach in a stronghold of liberalism, where alternative viewpoints wither and die, and people always talk using library voices...More 

J.H. Verkerke '77, professor of law and director of the Program for Employment  and Labor Law Studies at the University of Virginia School of Law: "You might expect me as a law professor, to emphasize how legal rules determine the limits of free expression. Instead, I hope to persuade you that the law -- and even university policies -- should play merely a peripheral role in establishing the conditions for a productive exchange of ideas. To be sure, various sources of law prohibit falsely defamatory statements, protect individual privacy, and outlaw discriminations, threats, and harassment...More

Jennifer Kneebone '13, admission counselor at Earlham College: "There seems to be a misconception lately that creating a safe learning environment will hinder a free discourse of ideas, because it requires that some voices will be stifled or censored. I would argue that the opposite is true: There can only be open and dynamic academic discussions in environments were all participants feel safe...More

Molly Smith '82, Friends Upper School History Department chair: "I think this may be the biggest challenge we face today in our classrooms. Tackling discussion topics that invite a range of opinions, many of which are deeply held and intensely personal, can feel like a minefield. I can recall times when we set down the road of a difficult conversation in class, got to the point where it was messy and unsettled, only to have the bell ring...More

Elijah Muhammad '12, teacher in Baltimore City Schools through Teach for America: "It has been very helpful watching the debate surrounding safe spaces on high school and college campuses evolve. Some take 'safe spaces' to mean 'repressing speech,' leading to the hotly debated term "snowflake culture." This is bemusing, as creating learning environments where debates don't devolve into insults is hardly repressing speech...More

What are your thoughts? Be a part of The Thinking Cap's online discussion group. Weigh in on something you've read or add a new insight in the Comment section below. 

 

 

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Community partnership is the new service learning

When I was growing up, community service was not really a “thing,” or rather it wasn’t a thing we did at school. Sure, there’d be the occasional food drive for which we’d bring in our donations of canned peas and tomato soup, but there was no context for these collections. Our teachers never engaged us in conversations about who our gifts would benefit or why people become homeless.

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How a Friends school approaches Charlottesville

Posted by Steve McManus, Upper School Principal on Aug 28, 2017 5:40:17 PM

Upper School principal Steve McManus likes to check in with the student body and help set a positive tone for the week ahead by sending a weekly Sunday evening “McMessage” – even when School is out of session. Often these are upbeat, lighthearted and infused with humor. But not always.  Here’s what he shared a week ago following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

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Genius Time inspires student led learning

Posted by Heidi Blalock, Director of Communications on Aug 17, 2017 10:00:00 AM

When 4th graders Laya and Alexandra learned that a tent encampment beneath a West Baltimore overpass had been removed by the City, the children asked Lower School Assistant Principal Cynthia Barney what would become of the homeless men and women who had lived there. Barney couldn’t provide a simple answer (there isn’t one), but connected the girls to Adam Schneider, community relations specialist at Healthcare for the Homeless, who responded to that question and 12 others they sent him about homelessness in Baltimore. Such curiosity and enthusiasm are at the heart of Genius Time, a student led learning initiative that engages Lower Schoolers in researching a topic of their choice and then demonstrating their knowledge through a variety of community service projects. With the support of the Lower School, Laya and Alexandra held a “crazy jeans” day on behalf of Healthcare for the Homeless and collected over $400. In a follow-up letter Schneider wrote to Barney: "If we are to have any chance at addressing the problems we face as a community, society, and world, we will need thoughtful and committed young people like, Laya and Alexandra.”

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Taking healthy risks on the playground

Posted by Meredith Schlow, associate teacher, Pre-K on Jul 27, 2017 9:32:00 AM

“Watch this, Ms. Schlow, watch!

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What these times demand of our schools

Posted by Matt Micciche, Head of School, Friends School of Baltimore on Jul 11, 2017 9:55:08 AM

These are interesting times for schools. Increasingly, and appropriately, parents are looking to us as educators to provide their children with the skills they need in order to navigate the noisy, fractious, and divisive culture we inhabit.  As with all skills, these can only be developed through disciplined and intentional practice in communities of learning, which makes finding the right school more important than it has ever been. And schools, in turn, must decide how we will respond to the challenges of our era: We can seek to shelter students from the contentions and controversies that have roiled our society, or we can harness the energy unleashed in these momentous times to deepen our children’s learning and prepare them to be the leaders we will need going forward.  Friends schools have, for more than 300 years in America, reliably chosen the latter course, helping to guide students and families through a revolution and a civil war, through astonishing accelerations of scientific and technological innovation, and through a host of other triumphs and tragedies, all with a clear-eyed willingness to frankly acknowledge and engage our struggles and a relentless determination to make the world a better place.

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