High Schoolers Deserve Freedom
BY SAHASRA CHAVALI '26 & DIKSHA MHATRE '26
TW: Mentions of suicide & mental health
Remember playing freeze tag or hide and seek in the playground outside elementary school? The childhood friendships and memories created during recess? Not being cooped up in a classroom? Ah, the good old days. Since high schoolers have more work, a heavier course load, and a steady decline in mental health, recess seems like the ideal solution. Especially after gathering data on student health and interviewing students and teachers at AB, we have concluded that high school students deserve the freedom of recess.
Due to the decline in teenage mental health, short breaks for relaxation are essential, hence the need for recess. In 2021, the CDC found that over four in ten students felt persistently sad or hopeless, nearly one-third experienced poor mental health, and one in ten attempted suicide. To combat this issue, schools can introduce social-emotional learning programs and community-building events for students and staff; however, these programs don’t help students daily and ultimately do not have the desired effect. Additionally, Neuroscience News states that the physical and social activity from recess help teenage brains develop by lowering levels of stress, regulating the nervous system, and allowing students to be more engaged in the classroom. Currently, AB only has the 35-minute lunch block without classes; this means that students without free periods and with busy schedules don’t have breaks, except for lunch.
To get a better understanding of student’s mental health at AB, we asked students how stressed they are during the school day on a scale of one to ten, with one being the least and ten the most. An eleventh-grade student who is juggling AP Chem and APUSH with the other honors classes said that her stress level is a seven. A tenth-grade student said that she had a heavy workload and rated her stress to be two or three. An English and Math teacher stated that the average stress they’ve observed is around six and a half. Finally, both interviewed students thought they would benefit from a fifteen to twenty minute break, especially in light of MCAS season and a bigger workload nearing the end of a quarter.
Although research supports the implementation of a break, implementing recess as part of school presents challenges. Nonetheless, the long-term impacts of incorporating a break far outweigh the scheduling conflicts. Notably, a Finnish school that incorporated a fifteen minute break noticed tremendous improvement in the student's moods. When sharing its experience, the school highlighted the importance of physical activity and described how absorbing Vitamin D from the sun has physical and mental health benefits. Although gym class provides exercise and sometimes outdoor time, students still receive a grade for the class. The Grayson School, a K-12 school located in PA, emphasizes the most important benefit of recess as the “freedom of effort.” A student isn’t graded in recess; they can use the time to their advantage to accomplish anything. Whether that be taking a walk, talking with friends, or simply meditating, the beauty of this built-in time block would be the pure freedom of choice. Going back to the eleventh grade student, she mentioned how during her free period, she is often busy with ACT prep and doesn’t get to take a breather. She said that a scheduled block would give her time to “cool down and debrief” in as little as fifteen minutes. After interviewing a few teachers, they said that a free block acting as a homeroom period could help them conference with students and provide extra help. Although free periods that students can put in their schedule seem like the solution, the students that can’t fit free periods into their schedule are oftentimes the ones that need it most. By establishing a twenty to thirty minute break for all students, we can ensure a solution which addresses all students.
While recess can be extremely beneficial to a student's mental health, it would be hard to incorporate it into the current AB schedule. One possible way is twenty minutes in the timeslot of advisory and shortening the other periods by five minutes. Although right now, recess sounds like a far-fetched dream, it is important to recognize the challenges that students face stemming from school pressures. Even without a built-in recess during the school day, AB has a longer lunch period than other schools. We encourage all students to truly eat, take a break, and socialize during that time. Teachers recommend that students balance their schedule, and they encourage students to meet with teachers for extra help. Another strategy is to try and find a personal kind of recess, something to look forward to that relieves pressure. Everyone should be able to enjoy a few minutes of freedom and a stress-free environment on days when it feels like school consumes us.