Originally published Dec. 25, 2021 by Bakersfield.com.

By Emma Gallegos

Physical education has a reputation for evoking bad memories, especially among less athletically gifted adults.

"Everybody remembers PE as an awful thing," said Adam Banducci, a 32-year veteran of Standard Middle School. "They say, 'You made us run five miles uphill.'"

Richard Ribaudo, PE teacher at Sierra Middle School in Bakersfield, Calif., is a Kern County teacher of the year finalist.

But the best physical education teachers in Kern County come to the subject with an outlook of building a lifelong love of being active and healthy.

"We want you to find one thing that you love that you want to do for the rest of your life," said Richard Ribaudo, who was a Kern County Teacher of the Year Finalist last year.

It's about being inclusive and meeting students where they are at.

Steven Spoonemore, a sixth grade teacher at Standard Middle School, said a key moment for him choosing to become a PE teacher was when he taught a disabled student how to do the long jump in college. A breakthrough came when the student was able to jump an entire foot.

"He lit up like a Christmas tree," he said.

Ribaudo said he and his fellow physical education teachers at Sierra Middle School build a lot of variation into their students' classes and weeks.

There are a lot of circuits. On Muscle Monday, students will rotate among calisthenics, barbells or step-ups. During Tuesday Tornado, students will rotate among all three teachers and they may practice different kinds of skills that they may use in a sport, such as throwing or catching.

"They're not stuck doing any one thing," he said.

And the mile is out.

"It has a negative stigma with it," Ribaudo said. "We've pretty much done away with it."

In its place are cardio activities that may involve just as much running or exercise, but students tend not to notice it.

There's more of an emphasis on wellness and less of an emphasis on traditional sports. Flag football might be a small part of a class period — class-wide games such as steal the bacon and gator are more popular.

Banducci said that at Standard Middle School, units on sports are shorter now, too. He said students seem to get bored with them more quickly than they used to.

When students arrived back on campus this year, many of them weren't in great shape. Distance learning and the pandemic has meant students have been spending a lot of time on laptops and on their phones inside. They haven't been outside and moving.

It was the job of PE teachers to help improve the health of students when they returned to campus.

Spoonemoore said the students' cardiovascular health has been getting better and they've been able to do more repetitions since the beginning of the year.

Ribaudo said he assumed most students were sedentary, so he took it easy at the beginning of the year and took a slower pace.

But physical education is about more than any individual student's health. It's about learning to work together as a team. That is also something that took a big hit when students were isolated at home. But there are signs of a turnaround on that front, too.

"The social cues are coming along," Spoonemore said.

Learning how to win and, maybe more importantly, how to lose, is also an important life skill that first-year Standard Middle School teacher Chaney Martin offers in his PE classes.

"It was hard in the beginning, but we try again the next day," Martin said. "You get that sense of competition and understand the ups and downs of life."

But giving students a taste of success in PE and teaching them how to work for it is important, especially at Standard, where students tend to come from a lot of poverty, Banducci said. They may not have a lot of success in their lives, and teachers want to demonstrate that success comes from working hard.

"We kind of go with the motto: 'The smallest step in the right direction,'" said Spoonemore.

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