Wednesday, June 4

Middle School Muddle:Why Movement Matters

During the long wait to hear about middle school acceptance, I've had the chance to think about about what really matters during the often awkward and uncomfortable years.

By now, many parents have already analyzed academic programs, test scores, class size, location and any specialties they feel will be the right fit. That makes the wait a bit harder, because all those questions may have been discussed and circulated in your household or with your child's classroom teacher for more than year. Tell us already, please!

In the meantime, I'm equally concerned with keeping my middle school kids participating in as many sports and activities as possible, some of which may be in jeopardy next year due to budget cuts.

City dwellers who've opted to raise kids in apartment buildings have learned early on the need for finding playgrounds, sports and outside activities. Unless you are comfortable putting your child in front of a television sets and video games for entertainment, your children may have already alienated your neighbors, with say, too many games of indoor soccer or football or furniture doubling as trampolines.

Once kids get to middle school, where everything said, done and worn is potentially embarrassing, their need to keep moving is even more essential. But few middle schools have full sports programs, a big topic of conversation this week at tryouts for the travel teams at Downtown United Soccer League, where my two boys have played on travel teams on and off for the last three years.

Many of the parents there wished their children's middle schools had the capacity to train and sponsor competitive sports teams after school.

We know that middle school educators absolutely understand the need to keep kids moving. This spring, their efforts let to something extraordinary: A series of track and field events that allowed kids to compete in events like the long jump, shot put, and 75-yard-dash. Over 120 city schools and 30,000 children will now have a chance to compete at Icahn Stadium on June 21st.

The series started five years ago when three District Two teachers decided to hold a small meet in Chinatown. The movement has grown, fueled by coaches and teachers who are not getting paid for the extra time and effort it takes to train and build teams, not to mention the time it takes to transport them to meets and events. Many coaches are working without gyms, fields or equipment.

Manhattan Academy of Technology in Chinatown has had tremendous success in creating and sustaining a sports program, and is now pushing hard to get programs off the ground for other schools as well. This week, they are holding a meeting to discuss creation of a soccer league.

All these efforts must be applauded and supported, and parents should fight hard for sports and extra programs that may be threatened. Keeping our children in top shape and engaged in fun and healthy after school activities gives them confidence and a sense of well-being -- and it saves a lot of furniture, too.

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