By Sarah Calatayud, Yellowbrick Staff Writer
Dr. Michael Hynes, Superintendent of Schools for the Patchogue-Medford district in Long Island, NY, believes very strongly in a few core principles. He believes in teaching to the whole child. He believes that children are individuals, and in order to educate them well (and that means ALL of them), you have to find out what works for each individual child, not teach and measure them all the same way.
He strongly believes that our nation’s education system has been careening too long down the standardized testing path to the detriment of our students. As a result, we’re seeing large numbers of children lose their passion and interest for learning. Many students stop trying, and they begin to opt out of the education process as they progress through high school.
In fact, during his TEDx talk published on May 5, 2017, he shares that he himself was one of those disenfranchised students. He recalls that school stopped being fun for him after elementary school was over, because there was no more playing in school. His school-love “light bulb” was flickering by the time he was in junior high school. The ranking and sorting of “smarter” kids into higher leveled classes caused him to become disengaged from school, and a self-described class clown. He says the only reason he didn’t drop out of high school was because he loved tennis in school.
He graduated from high school in the bottom 10% of his class. His guidance counselor informed him he “wasn’t college material.” Obviously, that was incorrect.
Dr. Hynes perceives that the only two focal points of the current American education system paradigm are English/Language Arts and Math/Science. The shift in education over the past few decades has been too far toward a focus on test preparation to get kids college and career-ready starting as young as kindergarten, when they should be playing and learning how to socialize. Hynes feels the testing is happening at the expense of social and emotional growth. The byproduct Hynes and other experts have observed is more depressed and anxious children.
In Hynes’ estimation, to turn this troubling trend around, schools must bring joy and excitement back to learning. Hynes received praise from his students and their parents, and from his district staff, when he doubled the school recess time at the elementary level during the 2016-17 year, so that the kids now have 40 minutes of lunch and 40 minutes of recess time.
Hynes also added yoga and mindfulness time to all grade levels, because, “the journey inward for our children is just as important as their journey outward when they learn new things.” To work with their emotions, to think things through, carving out time for that is just as important as math or language arts.
The results of the doubled recess time are impressive, according to Hynes. There’s been a surge in attendance and a decrease in negative behaviors and discipline referrals during class time.
During play time with other children, kids learn to work with others, and they learn how to regulate their own emotions. Research by Boston College psychologist Dr. Peter Gray supports this. “Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends… In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives.”
Dr. Gray is now delivering presentations to the community at Dr. Hynes’ school district, as is Lenore Skenazy (she’s the author of the blog and book “Free Range Kids”).
Hynes is also an admirer of Sir Ken Robinson, whose award-winning research has long substantiated the importance of play in education. Although children are playing much less than they used to, Robinson affirms, “Play is a highly beneficial and deeply natural way in which kids learn… Play has deeply important roles in the development of intellectual skills, in social skills, in developing empathy, in stretching our imaginations and exploring our creativity.”
These concepts serve as the underpinning of Hynes’ “PEAS Education” model. PEAS stands for physical, emotional, academic and social growth. In Hynes’ model, if you have all of those pieces together, in equal balance, the potential of each child is maximized. It’s a more balanced way of making sure all kids get what they deserve from the educational system.
Hynes states, “All four PEAS components are equally important, and there can be no hierarchy. Music and art are just as important as AP science. Physical education and recess are just as important as social studies and language arts.”
Hynes feels “the educational “pendulum” has to swing back to a place where there’s more balance,” and that our goal should be to help children use their time in school to figure out what their talents are. If they’re in the care of schools for a total of 14,000 hours, Dr. Hynes’ conviction is that during that time they should be able to find at least one thing they love and they’re good at.
He’s spreading the PEAS Education model far and wide and encourages other districts to jump onboard. That may start with parents bringing his model and his example to the attention of their own district’s Board of Education.
-Sarah Calatayud, Yellowbrick Staff Writer
More about Dr. Hynes
Dr. Hynes received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Bethany College and his doctorate in educational administration from Dowling College. He has undergone professional training to integrate organization learning and school leadership into programs at New York University, Stony Brook University and Harvard University. He has been awarded the “Friend of Education Award” and the “Distinguished Leadership Award” by Phi Delta Kappa.