Originally published April 6, 2021 in the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

By Raquel Torres

It was an exciting day for the students at Tyler ISD’s Andy Woods Elementary School. Some couldn’t stop jumping and dancing for joy in the school gymnasium.

The school’s basketball court had turned into a completely different scene — a dark room filled with bright neon lights, glow-in-the-dark tennis balls, balloons and string hanging from the ceiling, and most importantly, 18 different kinds of putt-putt lunar golf stations.

Photo by Ana Conejo/Tyler Morning Telegraph

The reason why is because of their Physical Education coach Ashley Phelps taking their physical education to the next level.

Avery Coleman, fifth-grader at Andy Woods Elementary, helped her coach teach other students from kindergarten to fifth grade how to play putt-putt golf Monday and Tuesday.

“She came to me and she said, ‘Would you like to help out with the grades and to play mini golf?’ Because some of them need a little help to learn how to do it, and sometimes the balls would go off of (the course) and they’ll need help going to get them,’” Coleman said.

First, Coleman teaches them how to stand and how to hit the ball into the hole. She said most of the time, they don’t make it in the hole the first time, but the second time around, they get better.

“Some of the courses are pretty hard,” Coleman said, “so it’s hard for them to hit it on them, but most of them are pretty easy. Some of the kids are actually really good and get holes at every one of them.”

She said she felt like an ultimate role model to her younger peers and that it was really fun. The one thing she hopes other take away from the putt-putt activity is to learn patience.

Each class participated in the putt-putt course for 50 minutes of their PE class.

Phelps first got the idea when she took her son to the Broadway Square Mall to play lunar mini golf. She knew she had to teach putt-putt to her students, and she knew it was possible to have black lights due to an event held at Andy Woods back in 2012. One idea connected to another, and she brought the idea to her principal.

“It’s always fun just to go that little extra mile and add the decorations and tell them to wear the white or bright clothing, so that they could get the full effect of the black lights,” Phelps said.

Principal Georgeanna Jones was very supportive of the idea. “She said, ‘Make it happen.’”

The preparation of the lunar golf course was about 24 hours total. Phelps, along with PE Assistant Marybeth Keeling and Phelps’ husband, spent their Easter weekend decorating the gym to look like a true lunar golf course with 18 holes.

The students will be attending their regular PE class period three days a week as scheduled, but they’ll be able to go to every single course because Phelps is rotating the students to play at each station. Most of the time, students play six to eight courses every time they spend those 50 minutes in their PE class period. This week, however, is more exciting.

Phelps said that although the children are having fun, there is a bigger goal.

“We are hoping to work on hand-eye coordination and working on that concentration of being able to make the connection from the putter to the ball, but more than that, we want to just give the experience of overall, being in a different environment, but yet a comfortable environment, of the gym they’ve been in, with their peers, working on a skill that not a lot of kids get a chance to play putt-putt,” Phelps said.

She was also glad to have fifth grade helpers assist students in the lunar golf course so students participating can have older leadership showing them exactly how to hold the putter and what the goal of that course is.

“The excitement on their faces is indescribable. We’ve had kids this week yelling, ‘This is the best day ever!’ ‘I love PE, I want to come everyday!’ A kid came up and said, ‘You’re the best, Coach Phelps, for doing this!’ There’s heartwarming stuff like that, that’s what you want. The smiles on their faces that they’re going to have those lasting memories to come, even if it’s for 50 minutes during their PE class,” Phelps said.

Jones said she was excited to use this student event to promote synergizing and letting fifth graders be good leaders to the younger children. She said the school partners among grade levels, too, so some fifth grade homerooms adopt kindergarten or first grade homerooms.

“How we did it this week, was we tested last week some benchmark testing and these are kids that are helping this week, are kids that did extremely well on those tests and they can come out of their classrooms a little bit this week while the other kids are kind of reviewing and going over their parts,” she said.

For instance, if a child did well in dividing fractions, they could instead use that class time to help out kindergarteners, but if they did a bit lower in area and perimeter, they would go back in the room for the parts they need help in.

“I think a lot of times, a kindergartener just looks up to a fifth grader. So if we have a kid that’s following directions and being a good leader, they’re being a model to the younger kids. We definitely preach that a lot, especially when we have the older kids in the hallway, I tell them, ‘Hey, the little kids are watching you. They’re watching what you’re doing, they’re mimicking your behavior.’ We want to make sure that when they leave our campus, they can be great leaders, so they can continue that throughout, but we want them to make sure they’re great leaders for our four-year-olds and five-year-olds,” Jones said.

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