Give Us a Break


Lydia von Schwanenfluegel, Staff Writer

Imagine a prison. One you know you can escape at any time, but one tiny thread keeps you there. You know that any enjoyment you have is not going to last for five minutes. If you start to smile, the authorities think they’re doing something wrong and shut it down.

This prison is visited every day, five days a week by almost every American. The atmosphere in nearly every school is so dismal that people routinely cry because of the stress, and the only break during the day is a 30 minute lunch break. That’s so short that by the time you walked to the cafeteria and then got out of the lunch line you’d have 10 minutes to eat your food and maybe five minutes to talk with friends, leaving enough time to get back to class. That should not be the life of the American student. Five minutes total of social time per day? Learning should be an enjoyable experience, not some spoon full of bitter medicine being shoved down your throat.

I’ve experienced what a healthy learning environment is. In middle school, I was fortunate enough to go to a private day school for 7th and 8th grade. During this time, I learned more than I’ve ever learned in one period of time. It never felt like a prison. In this school there was an extremely high expectation for the level of work you put out, but they didn’t work you into the ground. Every day before lunch we would have just half an hour for an activity. These activities varied depending on the day of the week. On Mondays, we’d have clubs– Art Club, Latin Club, Gender-Sexuality Alliance, Babysitters Club– you name it, they had it.    

Tuesdays, we just had free time, and on Wednesdays we met with our small advisory groups. This one was particularly helpful because it gave students a chance to talk to teachers and let off any stress they were feeling. On Thursdays and Fridays, we had clubs again. Breaking up the day was essential to maintaining a student morale that could get them through the hard classes. We were pushed to our academic limits and beyond, and people wrote essays in 8th grade that could have been written by a high school senior. Now, granted, these students were pre-selected for high academic achievement, but I think that everybody could get there, or at least improve their own personal best if we create an atmosphere that supports learning. Sitting in hard desks all day taking notes and only engaging by asking questions isn’t good enough. I shouldn’t hear groans after the lunch bell rings and we have to go to class, I should hear excitement– “I wonder what Mrs. Brown has planned today?”

According to a well-researched article from Concordia university, just a 15-minute break during the school day can increase productivity and student morale dramatically. Timothy D. Walker, in his article “Teach Like Finland,” compared the teaching styles of American and Finnish schools in his personal experience. He said that Finnish schools, which have regular 15-minute breaks in the school day, allow students to recharge and refocus on their work. He found it much easier to teach students who have had a break.

So how to fix this? According to Mrs. Mailloux, “we tried that once– we used to have 15-minute breaks around 9:30, but we would have problems,” including roughhousing, fights, and other disturbances. “It was too much of a headache for the administration” for it to be worth it, said Mrs. Mailloux. In order to satisfy both the need of students to have a break and the school’s need for order, there needs to be some kind of solution that is mutually beneficial. For that to work, there has to be something to occupy the students, which is where clubs come in.

Each student could sign up for a club during a 20-minute block in the middle of the day that offers a brief respite from schoolwork and gives students a chance to recuperate. “Having a break between first and second period would be great to recuperate and kind of get yourself together” says senior Tori Kelley. “I’d even be willing to push the end of the day back a little bit just to have that break.” Clubs similar to the ones that were offered at my middle school would ensure that all students are being supervised, and they’re not causing stress for the administration.

I want to see a world in which enjoyment and learning are not mutually exclusive. A world where everyone looks forward to going to school, including the people who struggle. A system that cares deeply about its students, and not its rating.