Originally published Sept. 11, 2020 by the Daily Herald.

By Jon Cohn

If this were gymnastics, we might give it a degree of difficulty rating around 9.5.

Think double flips while sticking the landing, high bar to low bar with perfect release or if you want to go ice skating instead think triple axel, perfectly executed.

No easy task for sure.

Here is the dilemma: How do you teach sports, exercise and fitness to students on the other side of a computer screen? A complete contrast in both mode and operation, but that is exactly the challenge facing our Glenview and Northbrook school P.E. teachers as they begin this new school year.

One thing seems clear, though: They are far better prepared this year than this past spring when schools closed suddenly and they had to adjust on the fly.

As Glenbrook North's Director of Physical Education, Bob Pieper is on the forefront of this new challenge. He freely admits they weren't completely in sync last year.

"Honestly, we were just hanging on and trying to keep the kids somewhat engaged," he said. "Our philosophy at that time was 'do no harm.' We basically just wanted to make sure we took attendance and everybody got more of a baseline grade."

What a difference a few months make.

Now P.E. teachers are armed and prepared with new curriculum, new ideas, and a clear strategy for attacking P.E. class over the internet. A good part of the summer was spent preparing for the possibility of 100% remote learning. Pieper and fellow director of physical education at Glenbrook South, Steve Staniek, met numerous times and had curriculum teams of P.E. teachers from both schools giving their input as well.

Together, they put a plan in place. And without question when the school year started, "Team P.E." was locked in and ready to roll.

"We are going to get them moving," Pieper fires out, sounding a little pumped up like he did in his football coaching days. "We are telling them this is technology break time. Time to get away from the screen and be prepared to be active. We might have a few minutes for attendance and a few explanations, but the rest of the time we want them active."

Pieper continues: "We are still going to teach sports skills through video and through demonstrations and have them practice those skills. Classes like dance, yoga, golf, and others will go on without interruption. We are going to give them exercise ideas and have them send in videos. They will be on camera for the entire 90 minutes of their block scheduled class."

"It will be challenging," Pieper adds, "because each student at home will have different tools to work with. Some kids may have an entire workout room, while others might not have much more than a football or basketball. But we will work within those parameters and do our best to make sure kids are learning, exercising and staying active."

Different challenges exist, though, with younger children. Glenview Elementary School District 34 was also busy preparing plans for online P.E. teaching over the summer.

"Our first step is to get them acclimated to the system," says longtime District 34 Glen Grove School P.E. teacher Preston Roberts. "We have to ease anxiety and work on building relationships with the kids. We want to make sure they know that P.E. will part of their online day and have them look forward to it."

Roberts emphasizes that more than just sports skills will be part of that teaching.

"We are going to really emphasize personal responsibility, proper etiquette, following key procedures and real engagement."

All this with the goal of making sure kids are taking P.E. class seriously. Even remotely.

"We still will have our regular units like soccer and teaching throwing and catching skills," Roberts said. "We will try and keep it, as much as possible, the same as our regular in-school program."

Classes are 30 minutes, but kids might be online for just 10 of those minutes, while they are then told to spend the next twenty off the computer practicing whatever the daily assignment might be.

"We want to get the kids away from the computer and making sure they are active," explains Roberts.

Just like the high schools did, District 34 also had many physical education discussions during summer curriculum idea meetings, and they plan to emphasize that the kids do more than just the 30-minute class to keep their fitness levels up.

"Kids will be required to do an extra 30 minutes of activity outside school each day,'" Roberts explains. "We will have them send in videos and keep activity logs, while parents will have to sign off on these making sure they are completed. "

Sounds to me like a plan. A plan put in place with a lot of preparation and work during the summer months. Let's give some well-deserved credit to our school physical education teachers who have, indeed, met a tough opponent head-on, and seem more than ready to take on the challenge.

Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and just an all-around local sports fan. 

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    Whether online or on-campus, PE teachers spent summer preparing to put best foot forward for students.
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