Originally published May 19, 2021 by WAVY-10 TV.

By Kara Dixon

Local educators worked during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure students stayed healthy both physically and mentally.

In Suffolk, Creekside Elementary School physical education teacher Joel Tise said their team quickly got together after the pandemic to figure out how to reach students virtually.

“That was the biggest challenge, not knowing. We’re virtual and we’ve never been virtual. We have to get all this information out,” Tise said.

The teacher said they had to get creative and is grateful for all the inspiration they found through the online teacher community.

“For me personally, I was thankful for the health and PE community, whether it was via Twitter or YouTube sharing ideas,” he said.

Those ideas inspired him and coworkers to create videos for students at home.

In Perquimans County, Colin Woodley also used games for students when it was hard for them to use the equipment.

“It’s really enhanced the PE program and health program. The kids really enjoy it,” he said. “We do things in health like quizzes and assessment pieces.”

But, the Hertford Grammar School physical education teacher wanted to make sure families at home were also able to join in on the fun.

“I’ve had several parents thank me and say how much fun they’re having. I would give them an assessment or survey and it would usually come back positive,” Woodley said.

Tise also made sure families got involved.

In February, the school held a family fitness night.

“I wanted them to know we were still here for them. Reach out if you need to talk to someone. Get moving,” he said. “It will give you more energy and help with your schoolwork and all those aspects.”

But physically fitness was not the only concern educators had.

At Gatesville Elementary School, counselor Aretha Williams-Ruffin stepped up to make sure students were coping during these tough times.

“Mental health is a big thing. During the pandemic we didn’t want it to expand,” she said.

Williams-Ruffin made wellness phone call checks to students to ask if they were okay or needed anything.

“Once we figured we were going to be online, making sure students had chrome books, anything they needed, whiteboards, sharpies, markers, any supply. If they needed home visits, I did that too just to make sure they were taken care of,” she said.

The counselor, who started out working as a school bus driver, volunteer, and substitute teacher nearly 30 years ago, also made videos of encouragement for students as well as lending a listening ear to fellow coworkers.

“I wanted to let them know I’m here. This is a challenge for us. We’re going to go through the maze but arrive at our destination together,” she said about helping her students and coworkers.

While things slowly return to normal at their schools, the educators learned many lessons during the pandemic they’ll keep with them.

“To appreciate life and people and not take one second for granted,” Williams-Ruffin said.

Woodley agreed.

“Every day is a blessing for us and just be the best you can be,” he said.

Woodley and Tise both did not expect to use technology in their gym classes but believe it will change the way they’ll continue to teach even once the pandemic is over.

“I think it’s for the positive. I think it’s for the good,” Tise said.

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