PE teachers get creative with keeping kids engaged

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Coach Kent holds the (metaphorical) world in his hands during an adaptive PE class.

Since the beginning of the school year, physical education (PE) teachers at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) have been challenged with maintaining students’ mental as well as physical health through a screen. PE teachers have used various methods such as assigning independent health projects, allocating time for individual exercise, and inviting guest speakers in an attempt to increase engagement and raise morale during the pandemic. 

PE teachers are tasked with teaching their students how to take care of all aspects of their health during the required four semesters of physical education throughout high school. PE teacher Ryan Kent said, “A major focus of our work is in the social emotional realm, as well as in health and nutrition. If we can teach students to be self-sufficient, intrinsically motivated, and health-minded when preparing to go into such an unpredictable world and future, then we have been able to get our message across.”  

In-person learning allows for gym class to be much more social and interactive than it is over Zoom. As students find it harder to stay engaged with a screen, teachers are tasked with being creative and coming up with new activities to combat waning attention spans. For example, PE teacher Ms. Perrotta invited Emma Lovewell, a celebrity Peloton instructor and MVRHS alumna, to attend a PE Zoom class from Ms. Lovewell’s home in New York City. 

Junior Anabelle Biggs, who was in the class, said, “I left the meeting feeling motivated by [Ms. Lovewell] and liked how she described her path through and after high school, including her fitness. It definitely encouraged me to go work out or go exercise.” 

Teachers are also cutting class short to allow time for students to exercise or get out of the house. Senior Fynn Monahan said, “Ms. Perrotta asks us to go get outside, take a walk or something. It’s really nice to have a break from Zoom and some time in the middle of the day to get outside and get a little bit of exercise.” Fynn has been taking advantage of this allotted time by walking to the beach and or riding his bike.

Another addition to this fall’s PE curriculum has been the implementation of research projects on different health topics not typically covered in the course. Anabelle said she enjoys this educational opportunity to “research mental health, especially ways we can support ourselves through this time.”

One gym class that has continued in person throughout the fall is Adapted Physical Education (APE), which is a physical education program, run by Coach Kent, that has been modified to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

“APE still follows state guidelines in regard to social distancing regulations,” said Coach Kent. “It is an incredibly challenging task that requires a considerable amount of planning from all of the teachers and support professionals involved. In fact, I have the easy job getting to play with students.”

Coach Kent believes PE classes are some of the most important during this time. “Now more than ever, students need to learn and understand the importance of personal physical health, social and emotional connection, and generally how to care for themselves and others when faced with unpredictability and uncertainty.” 

“I’m saddened that we’re not all together,” Ms. Perrotta said. “It’s really important to me to feel like I’m taking care of my students.”