Originally published April 3, 2020 in The Pilot.
By Mary Kate Murphy
Michelle Wimpey has a simple message for her students: “Shut those computers, get up and move.”
Usually, Wimpey spends her days at Southern Middle shepherding dozens of teens and preteens through organized physical activity so they can return to their academic classes with renewed mental focus. But while COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States, reading and math classes are limited to what can effectively be conveyed via the internet, the gym is off-limits and team sports are out of the picture.
Even though they’re all stuck at home, Moore County Schools’ physical education teachers aren’t about to let their students use quarantine as an excuse to lounge on the couch for two months. So far, Wimpey and her fellow Southern Middle PE teachers Thomas Shaffer and Keegan Lynch have created a dozen videos.
To parents, those videos might come as a mixed blessing: giving kids a way to burn off energy, set to tunes like “Baby Shark” and “Old Town Road.”
“If exercise is fun, you’re more likely to do it,” Wimpey said.
The coaches also incorporate skill-based games and mobility exercises that students can do in their living room or backyard, alone or with their parents and siblings. No fancy balls, racquets or athletic equipment required.
In one challenge, Wimpey partially fills a Solo cup with water and balances it on her forehead while standing. In about 20 seconds, she’d carefully lowered to the ground and used her knees to place the cup on the floor without spilling or touching it with her hands. In another video, she sets up nine cups as bowling pins.
“I don’t even have a small ball at my house, so I use a pair of rolled-up socks,” she said. “We’re trying to do things where kids can utilize what they have at home, so they don’t have to go buy anything.”
Toni Giangrande, who teaches PE at West Pine Middle, is directing her students to pick up a common household implement — a broom or a frying pan will do — and head outdoors.
“Instead of doing an at-home workout where they can follow along with me, I wanted to give them ideas to get them outside, active with their family and away from their computers,” she said. “I went with YouTube because all of our kids know what that is and spend all of their time there.”
In her “Coach G’s Quarantine PE” videos, Giangrande demonstrates driveway golf using a broom, ersatz ball made of paper and tape, and — you guessed it — a red Solo cup as well as pickleball with a frying pan in lieu of a racquet.
She’s also checked in from various “field trips:” to the Aloha Safari Zoo in Cameron — which currently remains open Friday through Sunday — a tulip farm, and from her kayak.
“Most people think that PE is just sports and games and physical fitness, but there’s actually a big outdoor adventure aspect to it too,” she said.
The only assignment is 60 minutes of activity recorded in a fitness log each day. All activities, even playing fetch with the family dog, are acceptable. Giangrande’s Great Pyrenees Riggs and pig Ellie Mae make guest appearances in her videos.
Students have also been tasked with monitoring and recording their heart rate, the old-fashioned way if necessary.
“A lot of the kids will have smartwatches that keep track of it for them, but before all of this happened we did a couple of lessons with the students on heart rate luckily, so they know how to take it using their neck or their wrist,” said Giangrande.
Instead of spending a solid hour exercising, coaches suggest that short 15- and 20-minute sessions can help break up the monotony of days spent at home. Even teachers at Southern Middle are taking advantage of their colleagues’ free home workouts.
“We sent it to our whole staff because these are great brain breaks or energizers if you have kids,” Wimpey said. “Stay on the computer for an hour and then get up and do a little three-minute game to just get your mind and your body moving.”
“We kind of left it up to the students. If they want to do something for 60 consecutive minutes a day that’s awesome but 10 minutes here and there is fine as long as they’re logging it,” Giangrande added.
“I also encourage them to get their family together and play board games just to get away from the computer, have some fun and de-stress.”