Heart Attack

I extended my stay at Overby two weeks ago so I wouldn’t have to leave during readings stations, where the class needs the most help. As a side effect I now also get to play with the kids during recess time, which helped me to make more observations and get a better picture of the kids’ routine. In general, the teacher gets to decide if the weather allows to go and play outside or if it’s more appropriate to spend recess in the gym. If she decides to go outside, the kids get their coats, line up in the classroom, and are then guided to the highly anticipated, freedom promising door to the playground. After they are released into the schoolyard, they immediately split up into smaller groups playing different things: There is one group of boys that plays Football, a mixed group of boys and girls that uses the playground equipment like monkey bars and slides and finally one group of girls that just sits on the swings and chats. I usually play tag with the mixed group around the playground, where I am the gruesome and feared monster chasing the kids. It always makes me happy to see the kids having a blast and forgetting everything they may have to worry about for a bit. But I also noticed that we have to interrupt the game quite a lot because a kid tripped and fell or because it has a bad cough attack and needs a rest. Compared to when we play the same game with the group of children I coach at my Taekwondo club back home, this happens disproportionally often. It seems like there are many more uncoordinated, asthmatic or just unathletic kids in this group. But this group is at least active in the break. I am not sure if I actually want to know how the situation looks like among the girls spending recess just sitting on the swings.
One conversation I overheard between a student and the teacher was particularly intense and heart-wrenching in this context: The teacher and I were standing outside on the schoolyard near the playground equipment when one student came running towards us. His eyes were wide open and his face showed a fearful expression. Both, the teacher and I were quite alarmed when he was approaching us because he usually wasn’t one to run or talk to the teacher at all – it was a rarity that he would even talk to his peers. Usually he would just sit in the class with an angry facial expression (no one could tell what he was angry at) staring into space. Moreover, he wouldn’t want to come outside most times, let alone to play with the other kids, which further added oddity to the situation. So when he finally arrived and started talking hastily we were preparing for the worst. “Miss. H., I have a heart attack!” he cried. “Feel my heart!” When the teacher felt his chest she answered relieved and likewise sarcastically: “You don’t have a heart attack. This is called exercise.” This situation just blew my mind. How could a boy at the age of seven mistake the beating of his heart after a little bit of running for a heart attack?!
When I later talked to the teacher of the class about this situation and my observation with the other group of kids, she agreed that the kids’ physical condition was saddening. She argued that they are just not exposed to physical activity when they are home. When she would drive through the neighborhood she would see almost no one playing outside even though Highland Park has a high ratio of kids. Basically, her words were: “Their parents are raising a generation of asthmatic children addicted to video games.” While a partly agree with that, I personally believe she was too quick in shifting all the responsibility to the parents in this matter. The kids spend a bulk of their time in school being told to sit still and move as little as possible to don’t interrupt the lessons. From their almost eight hours in school per day they get 20 minutes of recess, or even less as teachers take away minutes of it as a mean to discipline students (which in itself is a concept that I cannot comprehend. Why would you think it is beneficial for a student to take away his only opportunity to run around and play when his hyperactivity brought you to discipline him in the first place?). I don’t know exactly how many p.e. lessons the kids have but I would imagine it being quite few. So I personally do think that the way the school is organized doesn’t promote physical activity and therefore contributes to the physical condition of the kids.

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