Originally published June 1, 2021 by the Washington Daily News.

By Steve Barnes

It’s hard to think students could learn much in gym class while going to school on the computer from home, but one local teacher made sure hers had the opportunity.

For her efforts during an unprecedentedly challenging year for all teachers, Washington High School Health and Physical Education instructor Kendall Cox is the NC SHAPE High School P.E. Teacher of the Year.

The organization is made up of athletics, health, physical education recreation and dance professionals on the middle, high school and collegiate levels.

Cox put together a Power Point presentation entitled How I’ve Survived COVID as a Health and P.E. teacher to deliver to a colleague’s class in Craven County on a virtual day in late April. He was impressed and suggested she should submit it to N.C. SHAPE for consideration. She did, which started the nomination process, which led to the award.

“The whole point of Health and P.E. is to teach the kids to develop healthy eating, nutritional and exercise habits they will hopefully follow their entire lives,” Cox said. “I knew I had to come up with something because the shutdown was going to last for a while.”

That something turned out to be a rigorous regiment of fitness routines that would make a dedicated Cross-Fit participant huff and puff.

Cox taught two Health and P.E. classes and one female weightlifting class each semester. Since the kids couldn’t actually be in the real gym or weight room, she adapted and designed multiple sets of body weight circuit routines.

Students would do jumping jacks for one minute, followed by squats, pushups, sit-ups, etc. She also varied the routine by having a different theme. One day would be the Flip a Coin workout that gave various options. Another would be the Roll the Dice workout. While all students were virtual in the fall, the overall theme was Get Off the Couch.

“Kids get bored easily, so I tried to keep it fresh for them,” Cox said. “I knew all students didn’t have weights at home, so we did as many body weight workouts as we could. I encouraged those who did have weights to use them.”

Cox logged into Google Classroom at the beginning of each class, explain the work, go over proper form for the day’s exercises, answer questions, then give the students time to complete the workout. Ever mindful that shortcuts could be taken, Cox had a ready remedy.

“They had a virtual notebook that they had to fill out saying how many reps they did and how long it took them. I know how many push-ups somebody can do in a minute and I know how long it takes to run a mile, so there was very little wiggle room. They realized quickly that it was easier to do the drills than to try to fake it.”

Cox has faced teaching all her students remotely, then having some in person and some on the computer. The balancing act took some time to perfect, but she managed to pull it off.

“It got easier as we got deeper into the spring semester,” Cox said. “The online kids knew they had about 15 minutes to do their exercises while I was outside timing the in-person kids run the mile. The online part continuously evolved over the semester.”

Cox grew up in Beaufort County, attended Bath Elementary, came to Washington High to play volleyball and soccer all four years, graduated in 2007 and went on to UNC-Wilmington. She began her teaching career at Perquimans County Middle School, then returned to her alma mater in 2014.

She’s been the assistant girls soccer coach since then and was the head swimming coach this past winter.

“I am looking forward to fall when things get back to normal in the classroom,” Cox said. “I will use my online curriculum in some form in the future, but it will be nice to teach face to face. I wanted them to have a real P.E. class with criteria to validate their grade. It feels good to be recognized and we have a strong network of teachers here in WHS who are not only great resources, but great friends. I feel like we made it through together.”

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