Originally published Oct. 10, 2020 by the Kitsap Sun.
By Jeff Graham
Jay DeVries locates an open section of garage at his mother's home in Poulsbo as wife Karla chats with seventh- and eighth-grade students via Zoom on a pair of laptops resting on a workbench.
With pet bulldog Chloe keeping a watchful eye, the two Poulsbo Middle School physical education teachers want to make sure everyone is prepared to do a little sweating.
"OK, are you guys ready to rock?" Karla asks.
Two classes, one game of gym class B-I-N-G-O, 18 minutes of activity where students perform different exercises assigned to various letter/number combinations. Karla recommends that students use household items if they don't have weights to use.
"Run in the kitchen and grab a couple soup cans if you need to," Karla says.
Having undergone two hip-replacement surgeries in the past year, Jay jokes that Karla has the easier job — pulling B-I-N-G-O balls from a kitchen strainer — while he demonstrates each exercise, from burpees and boxer abs to planks and bicep curls.
"I like being bossed around at my job," Jay says with a grin.
Not wanting to hear any more good-natured guff from her husband, Karla takes her spot next to Jay, matching him movement for movement.
The DeVries tandem, who have worked together for the last three years, spends two days each week — Tuesdays and Fridays — leading three live video sessions. Jay and Karla make it a habit of doing the exercises right along with their students. Other days, the pair record training videos that students can watch online and try on their own.
"Most Tuesdays and Fridays," Karla said, "we're pretty exhausted."
The B-I-N-G-O game is similar to a workout Jay and Karla would be leading if students were attending classes in-person. There would be more running involved as kids are able to take advantage of gymnasium space.
With most schools in Kitsap County and around the state offering remote-only learning this fall because of COVID-19, physical education teachers are stretching their imaginations to ensure that students stuck at home are staying active — even if they are doing so from their living rooms, basements or garages.
"I think everyone understands the importance of exercise," said John Callaghan, a longtime physical education teacher at Marcus Whitman Junior High in Port Orchard.
Finding creative ways for students to engage in physical activity began in the spring soon after COVID-19 first hit.
Audrey Milano, teacher at John D. Bud Hawk Elementary School in Bremerton, said she and other elementary school P.E. teachers in Central Kitsap School District met regularly to discuss how to best provide for students who were suddenly removed from an in-person school environment
The group of 12 teachers created a universal document entitled "Get Outside Ideas" that included everything from throwing a ball and yard games to yoga and exercises to help improve flexibility.
"We just tried to have a theme each week," Milano said.
This fall, Milano said teachers are trying to be as accommodating as possible, mixing synchronous (activity with teachers) and asynchronous (independent activity) instruction to help meet the various needs of students.
“We have to be real lenient and let families do what works for them," Milano said.
Alec Grimm, physical education teacher at Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary School on Bainbridge Island, echoed Milano's sentiments. With so many different family dynamics at play when it comes to remote learning, Grimm said his goal with younger students is combining flexibility with activities that kids will enjoy, not add more stress.
"Make it fun somehow," Grimm said.
Another key for teachers is making sure students remain on a level playing field in terms of participation ability.
South Kitsap High School's Chad Nass, who is teaching three classes in weight training this fall from his house in Port Orchard, said he operates under the assumption that students don't possess all the proper weight-lifting equipment.
"Some kids have everything, some kids have nothing," Nass said. "We are trying to set it up so there's no equity issue."
In Nass' garage, you'll find everyday items he uses to demonstrate exercises to students: for Russian twists, two plastic gallon containers filled with water; for modified pull-ups, two chairs and a pole; for core exercises, a paint bucket filled with rocks.
While most physical education classes being taught feature some degree of online instruction, there are days where students are given the freedom to exercise where and when they want. They are able to log their fitness activity on their computers or smartphones, allowing teachers to keep track of their progress.
"On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have personal fitness days. They can shoot hoops, they can go jog, they can go for a walk," Nass said. "I have a girl right now who is in Disney World. She is logging every day. One day, she did 24,000 steps."
With new routines taking shape, teachers say it's still going to take some time to feel fully adjusted to remote physical education.
Kaelea Makaiwi, physical education for North Kitsap School District, went from working full time at North Kitsap High School and coaching two varsity sports to spending most her time this fall leading the physical education program at the new North Kitsap Online Academy, where students are opting for remote learning for the entire 2020-21 school year.
"This year is different for all of us," Makaiwi said. "For me, it's completely different. I miss the daily interaction of seeing kids work out or working out with them."
Makaiwi said she's getting used to working in isolation, either at home or from her office at the high school, but she'd prefer to return to the way things were before COVID-19. She's not alone in feeling that way.
"I'm Zoomed out," Callaghan said with a laugh. “It’s not what any of us signed up for, but it is what it is. The kids need something. The kids just need the interaction.”