third graders snowshoeing in Phy EdBy Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Like you, I spent a good part of the day Wednesday shoveling out from another blast of snow. I love the quiet of a snow storm and work to find balance between appreciating the beauty and cursing the extra work it requires. It has also been a challenge to find balance between the safety of our community and our commitment to academic excellence. Cancelling school is never an easy decision, particularly when we have missed so many days already. Finding balance is tough work.

As I was shoveling, I was thinking about another challenging balance that is important to maintain: the three A’s (arts, athletics, and academics) that serve as the foundation of our school’s mission. In particular, I’ve been troubled by the state of athletics, not only in Minnesota, but nationally. There has been a rise of single sport athletes and club sports that affects not only athletic programs, but also athletes themselves. At MPA, we strive to offer a variety of opportunities for our students, maintain a no-cut policy, and be competitive. However, that is becoming increasingly difficult to balance as well.

All three A’s are essential to the whole-child, whole-life education we offer at MPA. I am proud to say that Mounds Park Academy is the only school I’ve worked at that does such an excellent job at maintaining that balance. Too much of a focus on only academics comes at a cost to the physical, social, emotional, and mental health of our young people. Focusing only on the arts leaves little time to explore academic interests and athletic pursuits. An over-emphasis on athletics diminishes an athletic program and adversely affects school culture.

MPA’s commitment to whole-child for whole-life requires a careful calibration of the arts, athletics, and academics. Mind, body, and spirit are all essential elements of human development and fulfillment. Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in reading, math, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skills as well as motivation and confidence. The arts also build 21st century competencies such as creativity, innovation, collaboration, and communication. Athletics are equally important in building essential skills including teamwork, character, physical, and mental strength. Like the arts, research has positively linked athletic participation with academic success.

MPA is committed to ensuring that our students have the advantage of a wide variety of activities to maximize their potential. This is, in part, because of MPA’s flexibility and careful focus on scheduling. Teachers, coaches, and administrators work together to make it possible for students to discover, develop, and follow their interests and passions. Instead of forcing students to choose between the arts and athletics, practices and performances are intentionally scheduled in such a way that facilitates participation in multiple sports and activities.

Oftentimes, especially in larger schools, options exist but opportunities are limited. For instance, there are only five starting positions on the varsity basketball team regardless of whether the Upper School has 1,500 students or 200. Likewise, there is only one lead in the play and one first chair in the orchestra. The overall school environment also contributes in large part to nurturing the whole child. I’ve been in schools where athletics dominate—where the tail wagged the dog. School culture suffers when there’s peer pressure to conform to certain stereotypes and belong to narrowly defined peer groups.

As I attend athletic competitions, band and choral concerts, and theater productions, I am so proud of our students. I see many of the same faces at these events performing at high levels. I am amazed by their ability to find balance in their lives and see the joy that radiates from that sweet spot. I also feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the faculty, staff, and administrators who make it possible. I know that finding balance is tough work, ripe with challenges and pitfalls, but it is absolutely worth it.

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