By Rosemary K. Otzman
Four parents spoke to the Van Buren Public Schools Board of Education during Monday’s regular meeting, politely lobbying for recess for the 700 fifth and sixth grade students at Owen Intermediate School.
When they were done, School Supt. Michael Van Tassel asked them to get a group of eight to ten parents to meet with him and the school principal on the subject.
Supt. Van Tassel said because of the union contracts approved that evening, the district will have ten more minutes in the school day this fall so that will give them some time to use.
“You all are awesome,” Van Tassel said to the parents, who each presented an aspect of the exercise for young children issue. “I didn’t know this was an issue until Thursday when I got wind of it.”
Several of the speakers referred to a meeting held the night before by parents to discuss concerns about the school and plan the presentation to the board.
Amy O’Brien was the first speaker and she stated she knew they each had just five minutes for public comment.
She said a few years ago she was on the committee working on restructuring the district. The students were separated into McBride Middle School, for grades 7-8, and Owen Intermediate, for grades 5-6.
She said the committee had wanted Owen to be upper elementary, not a mini middle school. She said most of the Owen students are 10 and 11 years old and need exercise during the school day.
She asked the board to add playground equipment to the school and schedule daily recess besides lunch. Although Owen schedules outdoor lunch time every other day, it usually gives students indoor lunch recess only.
O’Brien presented copies of a list of intermediate schools in Wayne County showing whether the schools had recess.
She said Owen is the only school (with grades 5-6) that has no play equipment, no basketball hoops, and no path “to walk around and be silly.”
She said they have no time to be silly and are working from bell to bell. She said she represents several families at Owen and asked for the district to install necessary playground equipment by the end of the school year.
The next speaker was Wendy Rytman, who spoke on the medical standpoint and presented copies of the current finding of the American Academy of Pediatrics on “The Crucial Role of Recess in School.”
She pointed out parts of the report concerning social and emotional benefits, physical benefits, and academic benefits.
Rytman summarized the report that says recess is a necessary break in the school day and should not be withheld for punishment.
She said regular breaks are important and many of the Wayne County schools already recognize this. She said Van Buren should reach out to them for information, “So we don’t reinvent the wheel.”
Sandy Hardy said she is a School of Choice parent with two students at the high school and one at Savage.
She pointed out that regular breaks improve the focus of the students. She presented copies of a list of 73 articles similar to the one published by the American Academy of Pediatrics speaking on preventive medicine and how recess can fight depression, violence, and obesity and turn entire schools around academically.
“We cannot afford to deny or delay,” Hardy said, adding, “We aren’t asking to have the stars aligned. That will never happen…”
Rick Rytman introduced himself as “the closer” when he got up to round up the parents’ presentation.
He said the parents “are very tame tonight,” compared to how they were at the previous night’s meeting.
“I don’t think you realize what a hot topic this is,” he said.
Rytman, who is Director of Global Security for Chrysler Corp., said he has seen an “us versus them attitude” in the district and the parents had to do this presentation because school officials won’t listen to them.
He said a friend of theirs pulled his kid out of the Van Buren Schools and sent the student to a private school.
He said the parents don’t wish to point fingers but wish communications from both sides.
Rytman said he has questions about curriculum, which is not a part of that evening’s presentation.
He said kids need a break and the atmosphere at Owen is not upper elementary, “It’s a locked-down atmosphere.” He said, “The question is how can we create a better learning environment?
“I want to establish a team atmosphere. We shouldn’t have to wait a month for a meeting and put all this information together,” he said.
Rytman said he works in Auburn Hills and although his family wants to stay here, “We’re on middle ground about what to do.”
He said when they ask questions about curriculum, it’s a “KGB atmosphere.” Teachers say they can’t talk about it.
Rytman said he hates to talk about a committee because of the “death by committee” scenario.
“We ask for a response from the board. If parents have to work through the summer to earn money, we need to know,” Rytman said.
He said most people at the meeting don’t usually come to school board meetings, including himself, but, “If we don’t stand up for it, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
One more person addressed the board on a different subject. June Youngoldis suggested that paper products should be used for school lunches rather than Styrofoam, which is not eco-friendly. Finance Director Karen Moffitt was asked to look into the issue.
By Rosemary K. Otzman