New sports area offers more than a place to play
“The Gaga Ball pit is lit.”
–Jeffrey, 11th grade
One of the most gratifying parts of the Keystone experience comes from watching students of different ages get together as a natural part of the day; one of the most heart-warming sights recently came when we saw middle and upper school students competing in a pick-up soccer game on a new play space here on campus. These students, ranging from 7th to 12th graders, gathered during a lunch break on the new soccer court on the northeast corner of the Main Campus, near the corner of Woodlawn and McCullough avenues. Next to the soccer court is a new Gaga Ball pit. While everyone played hard and definitely wished to win, there was mutual respect among children ranging in age from 12 years old to seniors in high school.
For years, we had the equipment for Gaga Ball, but we couldn’t figure out where to place the pit. In the category of “necessity is the mother of invention,” we identified a vacant space, and set it up, much to the students’ delight. From all accounts, these new play areas have been a hit. Among the student comments: “This is the best soccer court ever!” and “Thank you so much!”
The necessity that birthed our invention stemmed in part from the overwhelming success of the new, covered sports court. While we thought students would like it, we did not expect the sports court to be quite so popular with games of volleyball, basketball, soccer, and four-square occurring simultaneously. So many different kinds of balls flying in multiple directions created a scene that resembled the inside of a pinball machine. Thus, the need for a new space.
However, there’s another reason for our creating more play areas. For years now, the faculty/staff at Keystone has studied ways to challenge students academically and support them in their personal development. We want students to work hard in class, and we want them to play hard in recess or during a free period or break time. We challenge them intellectually; similarly, we desire students to learn how to manage a significant and varied workload so they can balance the demands of college and beyond.
Nevertheless, more and more research demonstrates the benefits of play physiologically and mentally. Breaking a sweat can re-energize us; it can also decrease stress levels and allow people to function at a higher level.
While this has always been true, it may be even more relevant since the pandemic commenced. Like all schools, Keystone witnessed elevated levels of stress and more mental health issues since COVID began. Counselor Dr. Erica Shapiro, along with Division Heads, have worked mightily to address issues as they arise and planned programs to help identify signs of mental illness and aid students to develop coping skills and preventative techniques.
To these ends, we have introduced a variety of developmentally appropriate content for each division. Dr. Shapiro and Head of Upper School Bill Spedding have collaborated with the Upper School Wellness Council to provide resources and opportunities. In speaking about the issues, we hope to destigmatize mental health concerns and allow students to feel free coming forward when they are suffering.
In addition, by creating time and space for students to decompress during their very busy days, they can restore themselves and set themselves up for success in all of their classes and activities. Ultimately, we want our students to be healthy in mind and body and see the interrelationship between the two. If kicking or tossing a ball helps achieve this, even better.