David Gamberg’s Vision: Recess for the Body, Mind, and Soul

Long Island’s North Fork is an idyllic place for children. David Gamberg, superintendent of the neighboring Southold and Greenport school districts, is trying his best to keep it that way.


In a time when education leaders across the nation are collapsing under the weight of standards-based accountability, narrowing curriculum, and banishing play, recess, and time in the natural world, Gamberg is holding steady.

He derides our intense focus on the Common Core and the high-stakes tests that accompany it.  He argues for a reconceptualization of education, one that attends to the needs of the whole child, a diet that not only nourishes the body, but also the mind and the soul.  He made his case recently at Education Week:

The call to have children as young as 8 or 9 years old college- and career-ready does not create the same narrative as building a sound foundation in childhood filled with play and creativity. Among the many other more important ways to engage the hearts and minds of our youngest students, we must promote the childhood experience in all its wonder.

Gamberg gets it.  He dispenses common sense—and how heartening it is today.  Just last month, Florida’s state legislature denied the request of public elementary school parents for mandatory daily recess.   As those misguided policy makers were putting the kibosh on play, the primary engine of human development, Gamberg sent me an email.  “I have this adorable one-minute video of kids playing in a sandbox the other day in 32-degee weather,” he wrote. He was worried that the file was too big, and asked if he could text it to me.

The children in Southold’s elementary school have been the beneficiaries of his generous vision. On the expansive, green campus they are the custodians of a garden and a small, exquisite amphitheater, where the chorus rehearses. Up next: an 18-foot sculpture of Mother Goose’s shoe, to be built with the support of the Southold School Educational Foundation, apparently—bless them—kindred spirits of play.

The project had its genesis in the imagination of a father and son. More than 15 years ago, during Christmas vacation, Gamberg and Jake, now an architect, created a small-scale model of an elementary school building, replete with the aforementioned garden and amphitheater as well as a tiny shoe house.

The new addition got top billing in a recent feature story in the local newspaper, the Suffolk Timesalthough the photograph that led the piece depicted a high school student giving a lesson in flying drones to Southold’s technology teacher.  But no matter. The writer was on board.  For Mr. Gamberg, the tiny model makes kids feel larger than life,” Grant Parpan wrote.  “The actual large sculpture will show them the sky’s the limit.” (See the note for “playful elements” in the sketch.)

Mother Goose is larger than life, indeed, her nursery rhymes the stuff of childhood for centuries. Of course, she was overwhelmed by her maternal responsibilities, as I confirmed when I went to refresh my memory at the Poetry Foundation’s website:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.

She gave them some broth without any bread;

And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Had Ms. Goose an educator like Mr. Gamberg in her chaotic life, perhaps her children would have gone to sleep happy.


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