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Patchogue-Medford students enjoying more recess, less homework

Kidsday reporters Elaine Krassas, left, and Samantha Policastro

Kidsday reporters Elaine Krassas, left, and Samantha Policastro with Michael Hynes, the superintendent for the Patchogue-Medford School District. Credit: Jennifer Hempfling

Students in Patchogue went back to school last year with many changes to our school day. We spoke with our superintendent, principal, teachers and many students though out the district to see how they feel about the changes.

The changes include doubling recess in kindergarten through fifth grade; yoga instruction in kindergarten through eighth grade; a free breakfast program in two buildings; and lowering the amount of homework throughout the district.

We asked Dr. Michael Hynes, the superintendent of schools for the Patchogue-Medford School District, what inspired him to make these changes in our schools. He explained how in the past year he shadowed many students in kindergarten to grade 12, and being able to see life through kids’ eyes was a powerful experience for him.

He explained that when he was in school, it was a very different experience — he played and was able to explore and be creative. Kids today have more stress, and the work being done in class is not always in the best interest of the child. He wants to bring back the experience he had as a kid, and with the help of the board of education, he will make sure that principals can provide teachers what they need to help us all succeed. Dr. Hynes feels that play without adults hovering allows kids to become creative geniuses.

Students, of course, love the 40-minute break of playing freely on the playground and find that being able to play with all their friends in school is great, especially since at home they typically don’t get together. Some students even told us they can concentrate better in class because they are not sitting at desks for hours at a time anymore.

We asked Dr. Hynes why he felt yoga instruction was necessary. He said he wants everyone to take care of their body and mind, and he noticed that students in our district are stressed because of the higher educational demands. He practices yoga and meditation and thought it would be great to teach students the strategies to help reduce anxiety and stress.

We asked the students what they thought about the yoga. At first many said they thought it was weird and embarrassing to do in front of classmates, but by the second session most felt that the breathing exercises were helpful and liked going.

Dr. Hynes wants to reduce homework in all grades because he feels there needs to be a balance in kids’ lives, and doing hours of homework a night is nuts. He feels families should be eating dinner together and kids should be playing outside. Over time kids will become smarter because they are interacting with their families and playing with others. Our principal and teachers feel homework is a controversial topic but agree with Dr. Hynes that kids need to be free after school to play and interact with families. Kids love the idea of no homework.

As fifth-graders we feel that all these changes are positive, and we can see how they help kids focus in class and have better behavior.

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