Students stay home, stay active

— Created May 6, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kacie Jo Voeller

            While learning currently looks vastly different from a traditional classroom for Whidbey Island’s student population, one thing remains the same: a dedication from physical educators and coaches to keep students and athletes active. Physical education classes have continued virtually, and at the high school level, many coaches continue to offer at-home workouts and opportunities for athletes to connect online. 

Conor Laffey, communications officer for Oak Harbor Public Schools, said encouraging an all-around healthy lifestyle was a key goal of educators as online learning continues.

“Incorporating physical activity is critical for our online distance learning model,” he said. “During these difficult times, encouraging appropriate and responsible indoor/outdoor physical activities is a priority. Daily exercise has a variety of benefits, like improving physical health, concentration, and attitude. The impact of daily activity can improve moods, relieve stress, and promote brain development.”

Laffey said at the kindergarten to fourth grade level, virtual physical education was launched last week.

“This was the first week of PE lessons and it’s going really well out of the gate,” he said. “Each specialist welcomed students with a video sharing how excited they were to do PE activities together again. Then they posted one-minute PE challenges and provided a monthly calendar geared to encourage movement. It’s their way of staying active together!”

Sarah Stuurmans, a physical education teacher at Oak Harbor High School, said the school’s physical education department has been active in providing resources and curriculum for high schoolers since school closures began. 

“Every week, the kids do physical activity logs and then we provide a theme for the week, just similar to what we would be doing in class as far as the content part of it,” she said. “So now that they are at home, it has given us this instant way that we are intentional with delivering curriculum, because everything set up at the high school level is to provide lifelong fitness and being able to self-motivate, self-track, practice, reach out and connect, and then have a routine.”

Stuurmans said the physical education team provides digital resources to students, and through virtual teaching, educators have been able to promote standards such as independent learning and fitness.

“We have kind of been able to diversify a lot of our curriculum and not that it is flawless, but (we are) really just promoting that fitness is a key component of our mental health,” she said.

Stuurmans said while the stay-at-home order presented many challenges for educators and students, there were also opportunities for growth.

“I feel like it has been a great opportunity for us to help kids be creative and independent with their own fitness and health skills,” she said.

            Stuurmans, who also serves as an assistant coach for the school’s cross country team during the fall, said while the face-to-face connection is not currently available, both teachers and coaches continually make an effort to find other ways to reach students and athletes.

“Typically, with athletes and in general, there is that need to feel connected, to feel coached, to feel supported and encouraged,” she said. “I think that is something that we miss out on without that face-to-face contact, but they are able to reach out to their coaches and their teachers and log the things they are doing and then they are getting that feedback.” 

            Fostering a sense of community and coming together, even while apart, is a key goal of coaches and teachers, Stuurmans said.

“I think that we cannot discount the importance of just the connection part for our students and our student-athletes,” she said. “And there is still a team, we are all still there even though we are not in the same room or on the same bus or on the same field.”

Stuurmans said many spring coaches are still providing coaching and providing workouts for students to do independently at home. While not mandatory, Stuurmans said many fall coaches are providing chances for connection as well. Kerri Molitor, head volleyball coach of OHHS, has set up optional meetings via Google Meet for her team to promote a sense of continued community.

“One of the fun things she has challenged her athletes to do in support of our seniors is painting rocks,” she said. “And it could be for a specific senior, it could be for the class of 2020 in general, but some sort of positive, uplifting message and then if they go on a fitness walk or jog, to place that painted stone somewhere out in the community.”

Paul Lagerstedt, athletic director and assistant principal for South Whidbey High School, said no longer being able to meet in person has emphasized just how important connection and being part of classes and teams is for students and athletes.

“I guess one thing would be maybe we all would have a better appreciation of how much teams mean to us,” he said. “I think our coaches do an amazing job of building a culture of team and I am really amazed and proud of our staff. I think all these kids always had a great experience on the team and understood how special being part of a team was. I am guessing now we realize once something is taken away, you realize how much you miss it and I think our kids may be even a little surprised with how much they miss it.”

Lagerstedt said physical education has continued to take place using methods such as Zoom meetings and Google Classroom to promote healthy exercise and activities.

“We have an amazing PE department here and everything I have been able to observe, what they are doing with our kids and the engagement with our general PE and health, is that we have a really strong program here in our PE department,” he said. “Our kids and our general population are getting a great push or encouragement to be active and move around a little bit.”

            Lagerstedt said he hopes students will continue to take steps to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing even as schools remain closed.

“I just would encourage our students and athletes to continue to be active,” he said. “I know that most are getting that opportunity, or certainly a lot are getting that opportunity through our PE department.”