Originally published June 8, 2020 by the Scottsdale Independent.
By Caroline Yu
With the shift to online classes, PE teachers found themselves in a uniquely difficult situation: How do you teach a class that relies heavily on physical interactions with others?
The Arizona Department of Education on June 1 released a set of suggestions for schools reopening for fall. Some of these suggestions include frequent cleanings and facemasks when feasible.
For physical education classes, some of these accommodations may be difficult; however, whether they are approved or not is ultimately up to the school districts and officials to decide to implement them or not. As classes have recently ended, the planning has just begun for how schools will work on this according to Carmen Simpson, PE teacher at Yavapai Elementary.
“Nothing’s been set in stone to my knowledge,” Ms. Simpson said.
She explained that the district has sent out a list of scenarios that could potentially affect them but no concrete plans to accommodate social distancing practices for next year have been made. During the remainder of this spring semester, her class moved online where she would post activities for students to do and hope that they do them.
“You know, the kids are missing the connection I’m missing the connection between them,” Ms. Simpson said.
While planning continues for the next year, Ms. Simpson said that her biggest concern for next year is the “fear of the unknown.” Whether they go back to online or in-person is not definite yet but in the meantime, she’s doing an online summer camp where she’s been teaching kids yoga.
“The who are on there seem to be engaging and stuff like that but I think even if I just said ‘hi’ to them I think they’d be happy,” Ms. Simpson said.
In her classes that recently started this week, she said that around six kids attended her class that she holds twice a day in the mornings. Participation has definitely been an obstacle for teachers online after the district decided that students would not be penalized for missing classes. They still encouraged them to take part in the offered programs.
Jon Zukosky, who works with Ms. Simpson at Yavapai Elementary, said participation has been the most difficult part of this process. It was up to students to decide whether they would attend the PE classes online or not.
“I could tell I didn’t have that much participation and that was kind of a downer,” Mr. Zukosky said.
For him, he also was disappointed with the new online format. It was a challenge to have an engaging gym class due to the format of the class itself.
“I would much prefer to teach in person but you know I do what I have to do,” Mr. Zukosky said.
Planning for next year seems to be on everyone’s mind, he included, but again the district has not made any specific plans yet. For these two teachers at Yavapai Elementary, they’re anticipating the news for how to proceed.
“As soon as I find out if we’re going to be doing online stuff then at that point, I’ll get to work on it with my colleagues and put together a program,” Mr. Zukoski said. “I’m pretty confident that we can put together a good program.”
PE teachers at other schools are also ready to get back to normal as soon as possible. Terri Young from Pueblo Elementary feels that she is prepared to start doing classes for next year whether they’re online or in-person.
“If we had to start school online we would be ready to go again because so much information and materials available now,” Ms. Young said.
Each school has different needs and restrictions, but they are ready to accommodate whatever guidelines the district decides to set for them.
Online classrooms have not made it the most ideal learning environment, especially for PE. Ms. Young explained that PE teachers at her school have met previously to discuss and share resources in dealing with this difficult transition. They now have a shared folder for resources in teaching the class online.
“There’s been so much that’s come out since they started that there are so many things that we didn’t even get to incorporate,” she said.
As part of their online learning, they incorporated some other creative aspects to their online lessons like a pet day and a crazy hair day that was very well received.
“ really looked forward to that,” Ms. Young said. “They loved getting to come to class and do something a little different.”
Similar to Yavapai Elementary, Ms. Young also noticed her students having trouble adjusting to this online setting. Having an in-person PE class is a difficult environment to recreate online and has frustrated both teachers and students alike.
“You could tell just being on Zoom that they wanted to come back to school and be with their friends at recess play the games,” Ms. Young said.