Originally published May 21, 2020 in the Rome Sentinel.

By Nicole A. Hawley

With school days suspended, and then eventually closed for the remainder of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Westmoreland Central School Physical Education Teacher Greg Williams needed to figure out a way to keep kids active, healthy and engaged.

When learning switched from face-to-face, in-person contact in the classroom or gymnasium to communicating via chats and virtual meeting rooms online, Williams had to be innovative in his approach to continuing his physical education lessons as students remained sheltered at home. It was important that especially during this time, kids still got outdoors and remained active rather than constantly sitting in front of TV and computer screens.

"I have had to get creative with virtual physical education, said Williams. "Each week I focused on a topic either P.E. related or health related. We did a school-wide 'jumping jack challenge'...our entire primary school (kindergarten through second grade) was able to do 7,509 jumping jacks."

"My Google classroom is based on weekly topics from learning about the heart, bike safety, backyard games, fruits and vegetables, etc.,” he said. "It's filled with videos, articles and healthy trivia questions. I had to reinvent teaching physical education virtually. Students need to move — being stuck in front of a computer screen all day is not good for anyone!"

The physical education teacher said several of his students have emailed photos or posted “pics” and videos in his Google Classroom showing how they are staying active — from hikes and bike rides to mowing lawns and hitting balls out of the back yard.

But to keep kids motivated with their exercise and healthy eating choices, Williams decided to reach out to some close friends, including a few “once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog” alumni, to send video messages encouraging Primary Elementary children to “Stay Home, Stay Active and Stay Healthy.” Among the alums were Herb Hand, University of Texas football coach; Newchannel 2 Meteorologist Samantha Wessing; and John Burton, sports director for Newschannel 5 in Nashville, Tenn. for the first video.

Williams said he was so excited about the response of people across the country who contributed their video clips, he and Computer Specialist Patrick Cardillo were able to make a second video for students. Also posted on the school district website, Video 2 features some well-known personalities from Radio Disney, as well as famous athletes and “high” achievers that included Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Moceanu, race car driver Danica Patrick and retired NASA astronaut Mike Mullane.

"I wanted to find a unique way to motivate my students to stay active at home,” Williams said. "The first video features all former Westmoreland Elementary students from all over the country. The second video features local personalities, celebrities, a former NASA astronaut, as well as some former Olympic athletes. I’m really excited about this (next) one."

After receiving all the video messages, Williams was able to send the clips to Cardillo, who put together and produced one long 7-minute video featuring all the alumni and friends who sent their well-wishes to students. Parents and community members can watch the first video at https://www.westmorelandschool.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=1929&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=4371&PageID=1. The second video, also featured on the site, is 8 minutes long.

"The response was overwhelming...we decided to make a second video to be released on Friday — that one might be even better,” the teacher said. "I could not have done this project without the help of Patrick Cardillo."

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    Phys Ed teacher brings together ‘old friends’ to produce motivating videos for students
    PE teacher takes innovative approach to keeping students motivated to stay active at home.
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