A very courageous fifth-grade teacher in the Chicago Public Schools has written a scathing critique of the almost comical misery she and her students endured when they participated in a massive February 28 event kicking off Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools campaign.
The First Lady’s campaign is an effort to improve (and in some cases, bring back) physical education in American schools. White House officials called the event “a groundbreaking, earth-shattering, awesomely-inspiring day.”
Lisa Putnam and her fifth grades most certainly did not experience the event the same way, however. According to Putnam, the event at Chicago’s McCormick Place (the largest convention center in North America) was an unmitigated catastrophe.
CPS Chatter — “a forum of CPS parents and teachers” — has Putnam’s full tongue-lashing.
“If you are a parent, imagine that you take your child on a trip and they are very excited,” writes Putnam. “Now imagine they have to wait on a bus and stand in straight lines for three hours straight. Then imagine after one hour of ‘fun’ that they have to sit around and wait for three more hours that bus to pick them up. Oh, did I mention that are not allowed to have a morsel of food the entire time?”
In her devastating piece, Putnam explains that she was initially enthusiastic about her and her students’ participation in the kickoff of the Let’s Move! campaign — not least because it offered a chance to let off steam before a grueling battery of standardized tests next week.
However, that enthusiasm waned almost immediately.
Most of the 90-minute trip to the convention center was spent sitting behind all the other busses full of kids staffers had shipped in as props.
As per the request of Michelle Obama and her massive support staff, none of the children brought any food or drinks.
After standing in line for a security check that went reasonably well, it was time to stand in line for t-shirts.
“When my 10 year old students received their XL men’s t-shirts, I did my best to tell them with a straight face that the shirts would shrink and the girls could maybe wear them as a dress,” Putnam writes.
Next was an hour-long line. Students waited to take the various places organizers had planned for them around a stage where they would see the first lady and some famous athletes, including Bo Jackson.
“We were told to keep our students in three straight quiet lines,” says Putnam. “Then, the students were ushered into a giant room with a stage and told they had to be very quiet, that there was a ‘surprise in there for them.’ 6,000 kids quiet? Good luck guy.”
“The students framed the stage on three sides and the media was seated on the four side of the rectangular square,” Putnam continues. “As the commercial, I mean event, began each athlete was introduced. They all had a 1-2 minute motivational speech that was so cheesy that none of the athletes really seemed to connect with the students and the messages did not resonate. It seemed like one giant Nike advertisement.”
When Michelle Obama finally came out, she didn’t face the children.
“She was facing the media,” reports Putnam.
What followed was a bunch of exercising. Recall, though, that the kids were instructed not to bring any food.
“They were dropping like flies,” explains Putnam. “Most of my students were sitting on the ground by the time [pop star] Jordin Sparks started singing.”
“Around 1:30 pm the concert was over,” Putnam relates. “Everyone was corralled back into the very large room we started in and went back to where we were originally waiting. They began calling buses, starting with 1-10. Imagine my thinking when I looked down at my wrist band and saw ‘bus 291.'”
Putnam says she and her students waited some two and a half hours for their bus.
“My students continually came up to me to tell me that they were hungry and ask why this was happening. We teachers feel responsible for our students and there was nothing we could do but wait. We were at the mercy of this poorly run event.”
“Many of the parent chaperones had to make various arrangements for their younger students that they could no longer pick up from school,” she adds.
When bus 291 finally came at last, Putnam and her famished charges were able to escape.
“At 3:52 we finally departed from McCormick Place, exhausted, deflated, and hungry. This event was clearly not about the children, because their needs were not put first.”