HVSS does not have an official mission statement; the closest we get is the text of our graduation process, which states that, in order to earn a Certificate of Graduation, a student must prove to a committee that s/he has gained the problem solving skills, adaptability, and abilities necessary to succeed in whatever they are going onto next. This is an imminently sensible goal, honoring as it does the natural richness of humanity by acknowledging that different people will want to live different kinds of lives, and they’ll have to do different things to prepare for it.
In this post, though, I would like to float another possibility for a mission statement (not for serious consideration, just to offer another way of thinking about HVSS): HVSS’ mission is to safeguard our students’ right to be happy, healthy, and strong, however they define those preeminent states of being in and for themselves. This might make more sense as a mission statement than the language in the Cert/Grad process, because the school’s role is to maintain the environment and manage resources; we don’t actually teach our students skill sets, problem-solving, or how to adapt to new circumstances. Acquiring those kinds of things is just what happy, healthy, strong people do.
This new mission statement occurred to me recently when I was looking around school and noticing just how -- well, happy, healthy, and strong everybody looked. We often talk about how capable our students become, but usually in reference to the intangible skills they build while managing the responsibility of being a student here. We don’t talk much about how our school’s program actually supports our students’ health; maybe we just take it for granted.
So it was this beautiful, sunny, warm day, and nearly everyone was outside, where people should be, especially when it’s sunny and warm. I was thinking about how I needed to produce a blog post sometime soon or risk disappointing Vanessa, and I was witnessing an amazing variety of movement while I strolled around trying to come up with something new to point out to show what an amazing place this is. I saw students slacklining, using our obstacle course, working out with the gymnastic rings, brachiating on the swingset, dancing on our outdoor stage, stalking across the front lawn like animals (big cats?), playing basketball, sword-fighting, and riding bikes - all in the course of maybe three minutes. Our students, freed from the confines of rigid desks and boring playgrounds, and with unlimited access to the outdoors, move in incredible ways all the time, building their strength, developing balance and agility, and engaging their bodies in the ways they were meant to be engaged. A group of about ten younger students is also making regular trip to The Jungle, where they practice parkour and circus arts. There’s usually a rich layer of social context heaped on top of the movement here, too, whether it’s narrative, team dynamics, or artistic statement, and we usually focus on that layer when we talk about the benefits of all the action, but I’m more and more interested in what the movement itself is doing for our students. Even when they sit down here, they’re able to ditch the typical chair/table arrangement and opt for more natural positions. And this isn’t merely about being physically fit or even free and happy either: the human brain has actually developed to engage and control complex movement. Over 50% of the brain is dedicated to movement capacity. The changes in our postural style, and the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of some sectors of the population over the last 10,000 years has led to diminished emotional and imaginative capacities - it’s actually changed our feelings and thoughts. So by limiting the opportunity for movement in our educational system, we’re not doing kids any favors, and we’re not making anyone any smarter. Because we learn new movement via “mirror” neurons, it’s even true that the less movement we see in our environment, the less our brain is stimulated. Dr. John Ratey of Harvard Medical School says that body movement stimulation is also responsible for the maintenance of executive functions like sequencing, recalling memory, prioritization, and sustaining and inhibiting attention. It’s the twenty-first century; the brain and the body are one.
So next time someone asks you if you’re worried that your kid isn’t learning their lessons as in a typical classroom, tell them, “no, they’re too busy becoming happy, healthy, and strong for that stuff.”
When some people come to our campus and find our building basically empty and our outdoor spaces bustling with activity, what they think they see is kids wasting their time. When I look around, what I see are young apes stimulating ancient patterns programed into their brains and becoming the robust, well-rounded organisms they were meant to be. So next time someone asks you if you’re worried that your kid isn’t learning their lessons as in a typical classroom, tell them, “no, they’re too busy becoming happy, healthy, and strong for that stuff.” And then go ask your kid to take you to the park and show you a move.