The 7:30 a.m. bell is a tough one for many Staples High students. Eyes half-shut, mind still foggy, they are not exactly primed to learn.
But for 8 years, a small group of teenagers has arrived at school an hour earlier. From 6:30 to 7:15 a.m., 4 days a week, they gather in the fieldhouse or gym. They play basketball, soccer and badminton. They run and jump. They throw frisbees. They have fun.
They head to class alert and energized. They are ready for action. They remain focused throughout the day. They feel good. They earn good grades.
They do it voluntarily. They do it without any extra credit. And they do it with gusto.
This week, Michael Caetano — the physical education instructor who devised the Learning Readiness Physical Education program, and has run it for those 8 years (living far from Westport, he gets up way earlier than the students) — praised this year’s 12 participants via video.
The program was shut down along with the rest of the school in mid-March. But, he noted, many of the students continued to get up early to exercise on their own.
That’s just one of the values of LRPE.
Caetano points to many studies that show a positive correlation between exercise prior to learning, and academic performance.
“Students who commit themselves to strong physical and mental health feel better, are more relaxed and positive, think more clearly, concentrate better, maintain consistent routines — they even smile more,” he says. “These are lessons they’ll have forever.”
It’s not just the teacher talking. The LRPE teenagers believe it too.
Mathis De Vos spent 3 years in the program. That’s well over 400 days (big props to his parents — and all the others — who drive their kids, before they get license of their own).
He credits LRPE with helping him develop leadership skills and qualities that led to success in the classroom and beyond (he was captain of both the water polo and volleyball teams).
“You’d think a bunch of high schoolers in a gym at 6:30 a.m. would be boring. But Mr. Caetano greets each of us with a smile, and we all get fueled with energy,” Mathis says.
“He made everything fun while competitive, which provided incentive for me to show up every morning. I’m very glad I was part of this program.”
Caetano’s video tribute — which included kudos from principal Stafford Thomas — honored all 12 of this year’s participants. He gave a special shout-out to the 5 seniors. Two were members for all 4 years.
And for the returnees, the teacher had great news. With next year’s school start time pushed back half an hour, they won’t have to arrive until 7 a.m.