STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Michigan is a state of few opportunities for exercise at school

Tamar Charney

I crossed and uncrossed my legs for the tenth time in a minute. I bounced my foot. I even stood at the back of the room. I was fidgety, foggy brained, completely fatigued, and there were still hours to go until we were finished.

After 40-some odd trips around the sun, I should know I can't skip my morning workout and still expect to function well in a daylong meeting.

As the meeting droned on, and my fidgeting got worse and worse, my thoughts snapped back to a conversation I had with a school-aged boy I know.

He was completely frustrated by his lab partner at school.

"It's so annoying. He's just always bouncing his leg and, like, drumming his pencil," he said.

"Is lab before recess?" I asked.


"Or gym class?"

"Um, no," he sneered. "We don't really do that."

"Wait, what?" I said. "Do you seriously not have gym or recess every day?"

I don’t have kids and I’m not a teacher, so I don’t know these things. I was so surprised that I barely remember his exact answer. It was something along the lines of how they had to take one semester of gym. That's when I found myself ranting to a 13-year-old boy about how I can't concentrate at my job if I don't work out, and how I need to take a break and go for a walk if I have to do anything requiring real thought or creativity, and how I now realize I'd have never made it through school without burning off steam daily in those gym or dance classes I hated.

It's no wonder his lab partner was drumming his pencil.

Maybe my 13-year-old friend was just wrong, right? Of course kids get time at school to run around, get exercise, and play?

Uh, no.

Physical activity requirements vary widely by state. Some states require daily exercise in school. Others, like Michigan, just recommend it. The only requirement in Michigan is the one credit of gym needed for high school graduation.

Advocates for physical activity in school talk a lot about obesity, health, and lowering medical costs. New research from Michigan State University concludes more exercise during the school day would lessen the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD – in kids.

But let's talk jobs, opportunity, and secrets of successful people. Just about every knowledge worker I know will say their workout, yoga practice, or sport is an important part of their career success.

Feeling stressed by coworkers? It’s time for a run. Stuck on a problem? Go for a walk. Have a new task to master? There’s nothing like exercise endorphins to get you going.

But we expect kids to learn, write and collaborate with classmates without these tricks we use ourselves.

Does this make sense to you? It doesn't to me.

Because 65% of this blog post was "written" on a walk, 10% pacing in my office, 5% in the shower, and only the final 20% sitting at my home computer.That's a pretty typical accounting of how I work.

It's likely not that different from how you work if your job involves ideas, problem solving, or planning.

What school kid gets to do their school work that way?