Martel School third-graders were competing in a statewide civics contest.
AUGUSTA – As the Lewiston third-graders sat on the Hall of Flags stairs Tuesday eating their finger roll lunches, Amanda Bennett, 8, and Brittany Small, 9, explained a proposed policy their class came up with.

Martel School, the girls said, should institute short morning, lunchtime and afternoon recesses – even during the winter – because it’s good for them. Administrators stopped the morning outdoor recess during the winter because it took so long for students to get dressed and undressed. That meant the youngsters stayed inside from 8:30 to 12:10.

“We used to have two recesses but now we have one. We want recess back because kids are getting overweight,” Amanda said. Lack of exercise is contributing to people dying faster, she said. One less recess could be bad for their hearts, she continued.

Brittany totally agreed.

“If you get fresh air and oxygen, it helps clear the mind so you think better in class,” she said. “You’re not fidgety. You pay attention more to your teacher and don’t have your head on your desk.”

The students were in Augusta competing in a statewide civics contest that encourages students to develop policy. The “Project Citizen State Showcase” was sponsored by Kids Consortium of Lewiston.

Students from Orono, Portland, Holbrook and Minot also competed before a panel of judges. The proposed policies dealt with homework, gum chewing, smoking, steroid awareness and funding for high school laptop computers.

The laptop proposal by Portland’s Lyman Moore Middle School students took first place and will now compete nationally. The Martel third-graders got an honorable mention. “We’re the youngest ones here,” Brittany said.

In developing their findings, Martel teacher Darlene Letourneau said her students examined the reasons for eliminating the recess during the winter. The third-graders “did all the math,” adding the time spent putting on boots, jackets and gloves, and compared that to the benefits of recess.

“They learned all the reasons why you should have recess,” Letourneau said. “Diseases from lack of exercise, diabetes, heart problems. … Their research told them every 90 minutes they needed a break to learn better.”

The students then came up with an alternative: Shave five minutes off the morning recess, shorten lunch and throw in an afternoon recess.

During their Augusta visit, the Martel students met with Gov. John Baldacci and shared their proposal with him. “They blew him away in terms of what they know about the importance and health benefits of outdoor recess,” said Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. “They were talking about cognitive development. The governor was very impressed.”

But will Brittany and Amanda and their classmates impress their school hierarchy enough to get the policy changed next year?

Time will tell. The students will present their findings to the faculty and Principal Stephen Whitfield, who will decide, Letourneau said.

Others in Martel think-tank class are Andrew Balsamo, Joshua Brooks, Cameron Brousseau, Ronelle Clavette, Courtney Dubois, Andrew Fenderson, Zachery Kelly, Thomas Lapage, Corey Morin, Joshua Morin, Zachery Ouellette, Jillian Paradis, Taylor Pratt, Joseph Tarbox, Jazmine Tullo and Amanda Wood.

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