Originally published Feb. 3, 2021 in the Long Island Herald.
Steele Elementary School physical education teachers Joseph Billi and Richard Garguilo came up with a solution for hosting gym classes during a pandemic: create an outdoor, hand-painted activity wheel in the schoolyard complete with entertaining exercise routines and fitness challenges.
On the first day of school, Mr. Billi and Mr. Garguilo had placed red tape on the blacktop in the school yard for the students to use as their squad spots, but it just did not go as planned, school representatives said in a news release.
“The students use their squad spots to stretch and listen to the introduction of our lessons. Then they jog as part of their warm-up,” Mr. Billi explained. “We tried to use the basketball hoop and fence to help direct the students as to where to go to complete their lap, but this quickly became too confusing. Later that day, Mr. Garguilo and I discussed how the gym provided structure in countless ways and from there, this notion of the activity wheel was born!”
The teachers began researching and drawing a track filled with different fitness stations using paint donated by Ace Hardware in Baldwin and stencils made from cardboard boxes.
Each station focuses on a specific skill set, while allowing for social distancing and modification according to grade level. In addition, the teachers incorporated “conflict resolution circles” in the center to help resolve any issues between classmates. The activity wheel is open to all kindergarten through fifth-grade P.E. students.
“The dedication, passion and creativity evidenced in Mr. Billi’s and Mr. Garguilo’s work on the creation of the activity wheel has served to provide countless hours of meaningful physical activity for all children and has been a tremendous source of joy,” Steele Elementary School Principal Nicole Hunn said.
The new Steele activity wheel will be ever-evolving. Mr. Billi and Mr. Garguilo plan to develop new activity stations, not just for 2021, but for years and years to come.
Mr. Garguilo has been teaching physical education for more than two decades in the Baldwin Union Free School District, while Mr. Billi has been with Steele Elementary School for the last two years, both succeeding at delivering health and fitness in a fun and rewarding way for their students, school representatives said in a news release.