Originally published on Oct. 27, 2018 in the Pontiac Daily Leader.
By Luke Smucker
The steady rain, overcast sky and cold weather couldn’t stop the excitement of students at Pontiac Junior High School on Friday. The gymnasium was bursting with activity as students jumped, slammed, crawled and tossed their way through an obstacle course that would make a cross-fit instructor jealous.
The obstacle course activity is part of a new physical education curriculum created by new instructor Colleen Kelly and Chris Hoepfner. The teaching duo has dubbed itself “the dream team.”
“Through this new curriculum, we’re trying to focus on the idea of lifelong movement and activity,” Hoepfner said. “We’re really pushing general physical activity and movement through activities that the students can potentially do for the rest of their lives.”
Gone are the days when students would spend consecutive weeks learning and practicing a traditional sport. Through the school’s new curriculum, students are learning more about yoga, meditation — practical physical activity. In the new curriculum, students are faced with a different theme each day. Monday is focused on mobility and mindfulness. Tuesday is focused on traditional team sports. Wednesday is focused on walking. Thursday is a second day for the traditional team sports and Friday is all about active fitness.
“We probably would never have come up with this by ourselves, but together we’ve been able to start brainstorming and it just doesn’t stop,” Kelly said. “We’ve found plenty of different ways to introduce different activities. In some cases, the students might not even realize they’re getting a workout.”
In addition to participating in a variety of activities, the instructors are finding that the new curriculum also allows the students to positively interact with each other.
“On ‘Walking Wednesday,’ the students really seem to enjoy talking with one another while they walk around the gym,” Kelly said. “They really seem to be excited about being social with one another during class.”
Although the new curriculum focuses on a variety of activities, Hoepfner was quick to point out that the traditional sports are still being incorporated, just not as often.
“We want to keep the traditional sports training because we still want them to fall in love with these sports,” he said. “But, we also want to train the students to find an activity that they can do for the rest of their lives.”
Under the new curriculum, the instructors are finding that participation has increased. On “Fitness Friday,” the students are constantly up and moving, which means less time for distraction.
“The nice thing is, they don’t have to sit there and listen while we talk about a various sport or activity,” Kelly said. “We’ve found that if we are generally upbeat and positive about what we are teaching, most of the time, the kids will fall in line and get excited about it, too. When they are excited to do something, you spend less time focusing on keeping everyone on task.”
Throughout the year, Kelly and Hoepfner have scheduled specific units. The next unit the teachers are planning is focused on dance. Instead of some of the more traditional dances, the students will be learning things like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance and a few popular dance moves from the hit video game “Fortnite.”
“We’re going to mix that in with some of the wedding dances, too,” Hoepfner said. “So, it should be a nice mix. We’re trying to incorporate things that the students are already interested in to keep their participation levels up.”
From learning how to use a heart-rate monitor to basic barbell training, both Kelly and Hoepfner said the new curriculum is very unique to the area.
“We’re just trying different things and seeing what works,” Hoepfner said. “If something doesn’t go well, you just know to scrap it next year.”
“It’s sometimes shocking, too,” Kelly added. “Sometimes the things that you think the kids will really enjoy, they aren’t interested in. But then, you try something that you’re a little nervous about and the kids love it. Keeping everything fresh also keeps us, as instructors, motivated because we don’t get burnt out teaching it.”
In general, both Kelly and Hoepfner said this year has been incredible.
“This is my first year teaching and it’s probably going to be my favorite year,” Kelly said. “It’s just been such a smooth transition. I just graduated from Illinois State University last December, so this has been a big change, but with Hoepfner’s help, it’s been great.”