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Film Explores The Question: Are Kids Overscheduled?

Documentary "Race To Nowhere" has received nationwide attention from educators by asking if students tend to be too over-scheduled. Lynnfield Patch asked Superintendent Dr. Thomas Jefferson for his perspective.

In this day and age, children have more opportunities and activities than ever that they can use to enrich their minds and perhaps even gain an advantage when it comes to future college admissions and career prospects.

However, there is also concern among parents and education professionals that there can be too much of a good thing here – and that in some cases, children are now living over-scheduled lives at their own expense.

Calling attention to this issue is “Race To Nowhere,” a documentary film that has received considerable attention from educators across the country and which will be shown in town March 29 (information below) courtesy of the Lynnfield Educational Trust, an organization that works on behalf of the town's public school system.

With the showing of this movie coming up soon, Lynnfield Patch recently checked in with Superintendent Dr. Thomas W. Jefferson for his own perspectives on the film and the issues that it explores.

According to Dr. Jefferson, there is no single specific age group of students that are most likely to find themselves over-scheduled. Instead, it’s a more pervasive issue that applies in various ways to all ages.

Jefferson noted that during his own upbringing in Minnesota, he and other neighborhood children enjoyed the benefits of a safe neighborhood as well as activities like bike riding and informal baseball games. “I would have a hard time saying there is a such thing as under-scheduling,” said Jefferson, noting that kids have long taken responsibility for deciding how to keep themselves entertained. He also noted that there is evidence to show that young people who do not come from the so-called “helicopter” environment (a popular culture term meaning parents who are always hovering around their child), tend to have stronger connections to their extended family members.

Children can find themselves over-scheduled in more ways than ever these days, from solitary activities to team sports. Jefferson cites the higher intensity level of some team sports that has demanded more time than ever from young people and their parents. “The role of sports and the modern family in many ways has lost balance,” said Jefferson, pointing to the time commitment required for some young athletes to play for a highly competitive traveling team while also potentially attending sports summer camps, team-related social events and of course, traditional practices.

Jefferson also has the perspective of being a former athlete and basketball team captain himself. As a young basketball player, he recalls how Minnesota state law prohibited summer sports camps at the time for school-aged athletes. Instead, he got his extra practice by playing pickup games with friends.  In the present climate of course, Jefferson also acknowledges that it has become increasingly difficult for young athletes today to become standouts without the added training of summer camps and other things.

“Kids today don’t have the same level of independence they had one or two generations ago,” said Jefferson. “It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing.”

When his son was 5, Jefferson recalled, he did not initially feel that he needed to have him on an organized soccer team, but ultimately, all the other kids his age were at soccer practice, setting up the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” situation.

While there are many ways for children to be in over-scheduled situations, there are just as many motivations for parents to steer them in that direction. Some are afraid their children will lag behind their peers in the future if they do not feel they are maximizing every single opportunity for them. Others simply love sports, others want their children involved with strong programs, and of course, there are also a handful who sort of live vicariously through their children.  

Of course, on the other side of the coin, Jefferson notes that realistically, if somebody truly wants to excel at something, it takes a substantial time commitment no matter what. “Tiger Woods didn’t just fall onto the golf course,” he noted.

Students also face considerable academic pressure, especially in light of more standardized testing requirements than in previous generations as well as the ever-present pressure to be attractive to college admissions officials. Still, Jefferson adds that he has not found a student’s average homework burden to be a driving issue in the Lynnfield District when it comes to over-scheduling. He cites the town’s strong academic performance and points out that students in Lynnfield know they had “better be ready to roll up their sleeves.”

With these things in mind, Jefferson reports that the Race To Nowhere movie raises questions for both students and parents to consider. “I found it a cause for reflection as an educator,” he said, adding that in some cases, it may make sense for a family to address the issue of balance and perhaps simply admit ,“No, we can’t do all these things."

Race To Nowhere shows Thursday, March 29 at . Admission is $15 at the door or $10 (plus a $1.54 service charge) at this link.

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