Originally published Nov. 26, 2020 by WCBS Radio 880.

By Marla Diamond

A New York City school teacher is going above and beyond to make sure her students are cared for and staying active, despite remote learning.

Vanessa DiServio, a physical education teacher at the Hudson School of Learning Technologies in Chelsea, says the pandemic has hit her students particularly hard.

“It's tragic. It's scary, it's tragic, a lot of them have food insecurities, I mean the list goes on and on,” she said. “To hear the stories about our students, it is tragic. It's absolutely tragic.”

DiServio says many of her students live below the poverty line and the school is a Title 1 high school with limited resources, meaning remote learning is extremely difficult.

“I mean I cried when I found out that we were going back. I cried when we went remote last week,” the physical education teacher said.

But, she’s making the most of it and has found a way to keep her students active despite the shutdowns.

“They are still running,” DiServio said. “We connect with the app Strava, which is connected with the New York Road Runners. I'm able to see their runs and that's how I input the data and we can communicate, they can share photos, so I just had to complete a half marathon over the weekend.”

She says she wants to help students be proud of themselves and help them create a healthy relationship with physical activity.

“Build the confidence in themselves that will then help them be successful in the work that they're doing – those are the things that I want the students to learn,” she said. “So that when they are couped up at home, and the home is not always a safe place, that they have physical activity as a sort of safety net for them.”

DiServio was the only P.E. teacher in the city to receive the prestigious Big Apple Award from the Department of Education in June.

She earned it by not just engaging her students in the gym but focusing on their social and emotional wellbeing.

“I just want students to feel that they are accepted, that they are cared for, they may not win the race but the fact that they finished and got out there in the first place means everything,” DiServio said.

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