CIRCLE PINES, Minn. -- Ask a teen how their day is going and they will likely give you a schedule that would make any multi-tasker cringe.
"It was school non-stop, and sports after school and then homework and I'd go straight to bed," remembers Centennial High School senior Raelyn Nyren. That's so last year.
Nyren was among a group of students and staff chosen to create a way for students to reclaim some space in their day- space where they could relax, catch up on homework, work on a project or just catch up with friends.
"We view this as, for lack of a better term, big kid recess," said principal Tom Bruening. "A time for students to re-energize and lower their stress levels."
What emerged was the LEAP hour- Lunch, Energize, Achieve, Participate.
Junior Eli Dahl was also on the committee that developed the concept for Centennial. He believes the extra time is helping him with his academic life. "It helps me focus a lot more."
While Dahl is often in the band room practicing drums during the hour, the freedom to decide how he wants to spend that time is one key to its success. "I can play basketball, I can go lift, do yoga- it's awesome. And then once you go back from the you're completely focused again."
For senior Drake Mohlin, the extra hour buys breathing time. "A built in time of the day that you can get extra homework done, or make up a test, or meet with a teacher."
If teachers aren't meeting with students, they are supervising or engaged in different activities that help students blow off steam, relax or engage. There's a robotics group, a Harry Potter group, study rooms. Teachers have offered groups that learn magic tricks, talk about TV and movies, engage in STEM activities.
"I think one of the fears that staff had right away was losing class time," said language arts teacher Jessica Robinson." "But we ended up not losing much at all."
"We added seven minutes to our school day, " Bruening said. "We took a minute off our passing periods, and we went from a 55 minute period to a 52 minute period."
And what did they gain? "So what we're finding is attendance is increasing, behaviors- misbehaviors are decreasing and students are more academically successful," said Bruening.
"I believe it's a game changer."
Bruening says ten high schools in the area have already toured Centennial to see how LEAP hour works there.
Teen stress is a concern everywhere. The National Institute of Mental health reports as many as one in four young people between the age of 13 and 18 experience anxiety. Nearly six percent have a severe disorder.
Warning signs could be a child who has trouble sleeping, who loses interest in activities they once enjoyed- who avoids friends.
What to do about it? Cutting back on busy schedules can help, but it may not be an option. The American Psychological Association says physical activity can help as well as getting enough sleep.
The emotional health of students is something Tom Buening is very interested in, both as a principal and as a parent. He's betting that LEAP hour at Centennial High School will help student reach a better balance throughout their day.
"Truly our vision with LEAP is more the social, emotional aspects of it. We know that if kids feel safe, comfortable, supported both socially, emotionally and physically, that's going to help the academic piece."
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