It's 10:09 a.m. on a Monday morning, and the first through fifth graders at Newby Elementary School in McMinnville, some 450 strong, are poised to leap from their desks and stream through classroom doors.
10:10 a.m. If the bell echoing through the halls could imitate the sound of a voice, it would bellow just one word, loud and clear — REE-CESSS!
Students bolt upright, already commanding their legs to begin a running motion before their feet even hit the floor. Within less than half a minute, every classroom is clear.
For a moment, a fenced-in playground outfitted with colorful swings, teeter-totters, slides, monkey bars and merry-go-rounds stands invitingly empty. But only for a moment.
The entire student body bursts through the exit doors and charges toward the playground. Within seconds, just about every space in sight is occupied by energetic children.
To call it organized chaos would go only part of the way in describing this phenomenon. Although recess lasts a brief 15 minutes, the kids make the exuberant most of their break from studies.
Newby's morning recess is the only one of the day when all students but the kindergarteners go out to the playground together.
Seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds intermingle freely without any apparent friction.
The kids who spend the entire time swinging or playing on equipment are one segment. Small clusters of nascent cliques are another.
Young girls have some innate compulsion to gather into little groups, it seems. Whether it's strength in numbers, the desire to share little secrets that only they know, or a bit of both, the need has changed little over the generations.
These girls aren't quite old enough to have their own smart phones, but you can almost be assured that as soon as the opportunity arises, they'll use their guiles to get one.
Fathers and daughters are a delightful dynamic to see in action. It may not be universally true, but most of the time, finances permitting, distaff darlings find a way to pry open parental pocketbooks, particularly on the paternal side.
But back to the subject at hand.
The young males on the playground have no idea what their female classmates have in store from them in future years. They blithely bounce their brains out on a spring augmented seesaw, or barely avoid serious injury trying to pull off some silly stunt on the monkey bars.
When asked what she likes best about recess, 5th grader Carly Thorkildson said it's the chance for her to get together with her friend, Ailee Johnson. They've known each other since they were 4.
"We like to see our other friends, Ashley and Tegan, too," Ailee added.
Because Carly and Ailee had permission from their parents to talk with the press, but Ashley and Tegan didn't, this writer was unable to listen in on any of those four-way, BFF conversations.
Carly's brother, third grader Tyler Thorkildson, said emphatically "I like to get exercise." He then proceeded to demonstrate that statement by setting off on a teeter-totter tirade.
A cursory examination made it easy to declare that this is not your grandfather's seesaw.
Number one, it's not wood. Number two it's got a spring that looks like it belongs on a Mack truck. Number three, it's, well, fast.
If there hadn't been so much demand for the device, I'd have tried it out myself.
Tyler said that sometimes, though not today, they play touch football.
"We've got five on a team," he said. "We take turns playing quarterback. It's lots of fun."
They all agreed that 15 minutes goes by in a flash, and they aim to make the most of it. Because they were being interviewed, Principal Dave Carlson told the kids they could stay after recess ended to talk with the newspaper reporter.
Observing the scene with the school principal by your side obviously draws attention.
Several students came up and wanted to talk to Mr. Carlson. Some asked us what was going on.
Others had some sort of concern to address. Its sort of like being able to see the king when he's not in his throne room.
That's in no way meant to compare Dave Carlson to an imperious ruler. In fact, he is a very congenial fellow. It's just that one has to take into consideration a child's view of the ultimate authority figure.
In fact, when one student came up to speak to me, he balked at the reasoning that one of his parents had to give permission first.
"What do you mean?' he challenged. "We're at school."
That's not to say these youngsters prize recess above all else. In fact, for Ailee said it was far from her favorite class. "I like Miss Havercroft's math class best," she said.
"It's an advanced education course at the Middle School," Carlson interjected. "Ailee goes over there to attend the class."
"The Middle School," I said, surprised. "And you're in 5th grade.
"That's great. What are you studying, long division?"
"Pre-algebra," she replied.
Already out of my league, math-wise, I asked Ailee's younger brother, Luke, a second-grader, what he was studying. "Insects," he said.
Caught off guard, I couldn't come up with anything articulate to say in the arthropod department. Instead I switched to nematodes.
"Did you know that all the worms in the world weigh more than all the humans?" I queried cleverly. The reaction seemed to be somewhere between puzzlement and disgust.
Moving right along, I asked Luke what his favorite subject was. "Math," he said without hesitation.
Now that was something to talk about as Ailee beamed in the background.
"I'll bet you get some help from your sister on that," I said. He shrugged with a sense of acknowledgment. "Yeah, but I still like it." he replied.
The playground was soon deserted once again. The equipment fell silent, awaiting another recess to resume use.
A faint glimmer of nostalgia welled up in me as I thanked the youngsters and their principal for their time.
Glancing back at the playground, a faint glimmer of nostalgia swept over me along with a recollection from the distant past.
My eyes focused on the playground surface. It consisted of large, dark gray-brown squares, firm and strong but cushiony and resilient.
"It's made from recycled tires," Carlson said.
And that's what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — thinking about the fact that back in the day, make that way back, we played on gravel.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.