November 9, 2005

Physical Fitness and the Need for School Gym

By Mary C. Praught, Milton

Of course we should have a gym at each of the four elementary schools in Milton. Every day we receive supportive information from medical research about the physical and mental advantages of exercise. Every day reports abound about exercise being tied to decreased mortality rates. By having gym time in elementary school a priority, we are sending the right message to our children. The gym teachers are an important asset to the schools. They focus the children, in part, by teaching them games to play. Previously, neighborhood children were teachers of group games. In today's environment, many children do not benefit from neighborhoods which offer free play time for children, and school is the only opportunity they have to learn to play together with many children - outside of competitive, organized sports, which provides an entirely different set of skills, and does not reach 100 percent of our children for six formative and consecutive years. The gym is much more than a physical activity center. It provides after-school options for programs at no extra cost, provides a space for meeting, playing and exercising school spirit, international days, harvest fairs, celebrations for winter, science fairs, parent-teacher meetings, space to wait for school to begin in the morning and space to wait for the bus in the afternoon. The gym is in constant use. Elementary schools in Massachusetts average 350-400 students for many reasons, including to set the tone for beginning students that a complete education involves more than academic study. The gym is an important component for elementary school age children.

I have never seen the Whitman-Hansom school referred to in your editorial as an example of excess in building costs. I have seen all of the completed Milton schools, being two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. They are a tribute to the town's commitment to education, and they are not excessive.

I commend the school department, the building committee, the selectmen and the school committee for their years of work and insight. Let us not make more than 50 percent of Milton elementary school students take giant steps backwards, by eliminating a gym from a well-thought out plan for the future.