Originally published May 4, 2020 in The Herald News.

By Greg Sullivan

Talk to Michaela Goncalves for a few minutes and you’ll learn a closed campus does not mean bonus vacation time for school physical education teachers.

Goncalves’ professional routine has changed, for sure, and includes tenacious effort to connect remotely with all 320 of the students at Joseph Case High School. It means far more time on the computer than she was used to in the pre-COVID-19 crisis days.

“No one could have prepared for it,” Goncalves said late Friday morning after her school week daily Zoom workout. “Especially physical education teachers.”

At Case High, Goncalves and fellow phys-ed teacher Colin Tullson have been videoing workouts and posting one a day in their Google Classroom. Students are expected to do the workouts and, at the end of each week, fill out a related Google form.

For fourth term, phys-ed at Case is being graded as pass-fail and is based on responding to the the end-of-week reports. “It’s the honor system,” she said.

The workouts Goncalves and Tullson post can all be done at home. No equipment is required. They involve cardiovascular exercises and also target muscular strength and endurance and flexibility.

Of the 320 students at Case, Goncalves said there remain only about 30 whom she has not yet been able to contact. She said she’s determined to reach each and every one of them.

An indoor assistant track and field coach this past winter and scheduled to be a Unified track and field assistant this spring, Goncalves has gone above and beyond during with her physical education duties. The school’s former head coach in volleyball and softball, she has taken to Zoom to stage voluntary group workouts Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

She’s said she’s getting 10 to 20 participants per session. She wants to bump that number up. Participants include mainstream students, ARCH (Alternative Road through Case High) students, Tullson, as well as other faculty members. Principal Brian McCann has joined one of her Zoom sessions as an observer and said he would like to return to participate.

“Having been part of one of Coach Goncalves’ and Coach Tullson’s virtual phys ed classes, I am amazed at the creativity of teachers at this time,” Case High Principal Brian McCann said in an email. “It is a wonderful way to reignite community between educators and students in a safe, healthy and digital environment. I was even more impressed to learn that our Unified athletes take part as well, demonstrating the school’s ongoing commitment to inclusivity.”

“I’m hoping to stop by again,” McCann added. “Let’s say that I’m glad you can turn off your video and still be a part of the class.”

Goncalves said she conducted a survey of students to see what time would work best for the Zoom group workouts. The 9:30 to 10 slot seemed to work best, allowing students to start the day with exercise without having to roll out of bed early.

The Zoom sessions have become an important part of the day for Goncalves, a Durfee High graduate who has been at Case for all eight years of her PE-teaching career. She videos the sessions in the basement of her Somerset home, with daughter Rose, 1, making frequent background appearances.

“I think it’s the most genuine and authentic way I can connect with students,” Goncalves said. “I’m connecting with students in a way I don’t get to with Google forms.”

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