Originally published Dec. 24, 2018 by nwestiowa.com.

By Mark Mahoney

The Rock Valley School District wants physical education to be fun and safe for all of its students.

The school district is in its first year of holding what it calls a mentoring PE class inside the Rock Valley Elementary gym.

Mentoring PE

Rock Valley High School sophomore Cora Van Voorst helps an elementary student balance on bucket stilts during a mentoring PE class. Photos by Joe Fisher

The main objective of the course is to provide elementary students who find it difficult to focus and participate in P.E. with their peers an opportunity for positive movement and exercise in a safe environment.

“Our desire is to help students realize the mental, physical, social and emotional benefits of exercise, movement and play through relationships with caring high school students,” said K-5 PE teacher Greg Heemstra.

“It is also our goal that students will become more comfortable and confident in the gym environment and be able to stay and participate longer with their grade level class,” he said.

The new class sees mentors — Rock Valley High School students who spend their PE time in and get PE credit for the mentoring course — meet their assigned elementary students either in their classroom or in the lunchroom.

“Some students eat first with their class and high school mentor while others will go directly to the gym and eat later with their class and high school mentor,” Heemstra said. “I plan a physical task or activity for the class to do each day and communicate it with the mentors before class so they are mentally prepared to best help their student.”

He described himself as more of a facilitator than a teacher for the mentoring course.

“My role is quite different than in a traditional class,” Heemstra said. “Each student’s needs and interests are different so a visitor will see many different activities going on at anytime. I plan for the learning opportunities and help the mentors help their kids succeed. In a nutshell, I work to create space for exercise and learning to take place for our students.”

The mentoring course meets every day during the school year, but not during summer vacation.

There are 13 high school mentors for eight elementary students this year.

“We work on locomotor, balance, agility, strength, social and other physical skills, like batting balloons, playing catch, kicking a ball, running, skipping, galloping, stepping over hurdles, walking on balance beams or balancing while moving across various pieces of equipment — all in the spirit of play and cooperation,” Heemstra said.

“We also spend time learning to play with others and work together in group games and activities,” he said. “Our goal is to help students get comfortable with any activity and equipment that they will be exposed to in their regular PE class.”

He explained that he, elementary principal Don Ortman and special education teacher Kristina Teunissen have visited about ways to better meet the needs of their students who are overwhelmed by the noise, busyness, bright lights and other issues they encounter in PE class.

“We wanted to design a class that would supplement the students’ current PE class and give them the skills, comfort and confidence to participate more fully with their regular PE class and to make sure that these students received an opportunity to be physically active,” Heemstra said.

High school guidance counselor Shalee Van Bemmel has been instrumental in working with the high school mentors and their schedules.

New special education teacher Erika Koedam has been involved in the implementation of the new course as well.

“This class does not replace an elementary student’s PE class, but is designed to supplement their PE experience and set them up for success in their other classes,” Heemstra said. “We believe that exercise is not only beneficial for a child’s well-being, but has a positive impact on their ability to learn.”

He has been told by parents and teachers of the participating high school and elementary students that the mentoring PE course “is a highlight of their day.”

“Elementary students benefit from physical activity and positive, caring relationships,” Heemstra said. “The high school students are benefiting greatly from the mentoring relationship as well.

“I don’t believe any of the high school students are in this class for what they can get out of it, but rather for what they can give, and they have experienced many blessings through the class,” he said.

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