A new documentary that premiered at a virtual New York City film festival this week casts a spotlight on the current head of the Port Washington Union Free School District, albeit in his job at a prior district.
The movie in question, “Chasing Childhood,” is featured at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival. Directed by Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld, the film follows how a lack of free play and independence has affected children, with the mere possibility of a high-end job or Ivy League scholarship exchanged for social and emotional development.
Before joining the Port schools in late 2019, Michael Hynes served as superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District, where he himself attended school as a child and teen. As an opponent to Common Core learning, he implemented changes that included a doubling of recess time, integrating yoga into K-12 classes, creating mindfulness rooms for meditation, and implementation of free-play clubs before school on Fridays, all captured in the documentary.
“There are not many hills that I die on as an educator, but one of them is making sure our kids are emotionally, socially, and physically in a good place,” Hynes says at the opening of the documentary.
He recalled that as a child, he was “always playing around outside,” and that he would “pretty much live” at the fields in Patchogue, playing pickup games with friends.
“Now, as you can see, it screams hyper-organization for Little League sports,” Hynes says, as the camera cuts to advertising signs on fields. “And when I see this, this actually is the ultimate example of what our society has become. Organization – we tell kids what to do 24/7 even when they’re doing something they should be doing on their own.”
Hynes is also seen recording a phone call to Patchogue parents advising them that they have the right to opt-out of state exams.
“One of the things I found most interesting in my first year as superintendent was I didn’t see kids joyful, I didn’t see kids wanting to be there as much as they should,” Hynes said. “Schools are so focused on academics that we rarely focus on social and emotional growth.”
He adds that only a few states in the U.S. require recess. In New York, the state Department of Education “strongly recommends that all elementary schools offer at least 20 minutes of recess on all or most days during the school year, and encourages schools to develop a recess plan to maximize this time for children’s health and well-being,” but no law requiring it has been passed.
“The average recess for most kids is 10-15 minutes, that needs to change,” Hynes said. “The detractors were initially about, if you’re going to incorporate play into the day or extend recess, then how on God’s green earth are we going to fit all this curriculum within a school day? Since we implemented play and yoga and mindfulness, we’ve seen behavioral referrals being reduced by almost half, and I do attribute that to allowing kids to make decisions on their own.”
Educators from the school district in Wilton, Conn., are then shown touring the Patchogue-Medford district with Hynes, reviewing the reforms.
“What we’re doing here is so out of the ordinary, but it shouldn’t be,” Hynes said. “It should be ordinary.”
“Chasing Childhood” is available to view for $12 a ticket at https://rb.gy/lhfxpo.