How educators are getting exercise in during the pandemic
Every day last spring, it was like this.
Well, when it wasn’t raining.
If you live in the Suncrest Elementary School attendance area, and even if your kids now have kids of their own, you likely saw it, too.
You saw Ben Schueler, who would ride his bicycle over, pop off his helmet and gloves, and greet a group of youngsters ready to burn off some quarantine.
“Hey, guys,” he’d say, smiling. “You ready to work out?”
“Sure, Mr. Shoe!” came the chorus – “Mr. Shoe,” being the nickname of the kinetic, fun-loving teacher of physical education at the school on Collins Ferry Road.
A school, it can be said, which was quite empty at the time.
Quite quiet, also.
No high-frequency, happy-noise in the classroom or cafeteria.
No soles squeaking across hallways or across the gym floor, where Mr. Shoe normally made cardio-warriors out of couch potatoes-in-training.
Everyone was sequestered, through the discourtesy of the coronavirus.
Everyone was sluggish, lethargic. A guy who works out for a living wasn’t even immune.
“I got tired of trying to make exercise videos for the kids,” Schueler said.
“I got tired of riding the couch.”
So, he put his mettle to the pedal: “I got on my bike, and decided I’d bring phys. ed. to them.”
Mini, socially distanced sessions.
Goofy stretches and laughs.
Get the work in, then move on to the next group of kids the next street over.
One neighborhood, one jumping jack, at a time. Michael Ryan appreciates the innovation.
‘What do the students think?’
Ryan is a former elementary school counselor who now works for the district.
He coordinates student support services for Monongalia County Schools.
Emphasis on support. The emotional kind.
That’s how it’s been since the coronavirus hit.
Ryan and his colleagues have spent the past months simply gauging the students’ well-being.
That’s a measure, the former school counselor said, oftentimes overlooked these days.
Which, he said, is one more coronavirus contradiction in a world now full of many.
School districts across all 50 states are wrestling with the new realities of trying to keep students engaged, while meting out homework at the same time, Ryan said.
With all the technical talk of connection, the most important connection often gets overlooked, he said.
“We never ask, ‘Well, what do the students think?’ ”
That’s what he’s been doing, though, in the form of surveys and need-assessments designed to accumulate some frontier data in unprecedented times in the life of Mon’s school district.
Some recent numbers from fall, among the students and their families who responded to his call: A total of 75% of elementary students taking the blended-learning option said they were “happy” to be in school, Ryan reported.
They actually felt connected to the proceedings.
Compare that to the 38% of their distance-learning classmates giving that same answer.
The results were almost the same among middle school responses, also, with 72% of in-school students saying they enjoyed being in the building at least part of the time – compared to the 41% of distance-learning classmates who reported they were happy with their out-of-school circumstance.
“We also noticed that 62% of blended students in high school felt connected, compared to 48% of distance students,” Ryan said.
Those high school numbers were almost the same among students in both categories considering their academics, he said, which is significant, with college or other post-secondary training vectoring into view.
Pandemic lesson plan
Ryan is planning another assessment next month, which may turn the numbers completely around, as the coronavirus roils and the buzz from Gov. Jim Justice’s controversial summons to school grows louder.
In the meantime, Ryan remains impressed by Mon’s teachers and their schools working for emotional connections – such as virtual recess, lunchtime chats, drive-by parades in school parking lots and club meetings via Zoom.
Of course, he’s optimistic, he said.
Inherently optimistic, he’ll add, in the way of his brothers and sisters in the counseling profession.
Eventually, he said, society will go about its day-to-day in a post-COVID neighborhood.
He’s looking forward to what will happen next.
“You always hear that ‘things will never be the same.’ Well, they shouldn’t be, because we’re learning things. We can take the good from it and use it.”