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Masking up for all-sports golf and beyond

Teachers get creative to keep kids physically active

Physical education looks a little different this year at Northview’s three elementary schools. 

At the start of a recent class, teacher Jesse Brinks greeted North Oakview fourth-graders with elbow bumps before they lined up 6 feet apart and held out their hands for a squirt of sanitizer.

One girl turned a cartwheel as she waited her turn, and a boy at the other end of the gymnasium showed off some Chicken Dance moves.

After a quick explanation of the day’s activity, students raced outdoors, each with a plastic laundry basket that contained items such as a tennis or whiffle ball and a ping-pong paddle or other instrument-with-which-to-propel things.

“Now they have their own equipment that only they use,” Brinks pointed out, adding that time is built into the day for him to sanitize every piece of equipment before every class.

Once his students reached a baseball field dotted with numbered orange cones, Brinks explained the rules of “all-sports golf” before sending them off alone or in pairs.

‘Just because you can’t play dodgeball doesn’t mean you have to scrap your PE program.’

— Jordan Wallin, physical education teacher

He directed fourth-graders Hunter Umstead and Tristan Hawkins to begin at the cone marked 11, about as far afield as possible.

Hunter was already feeling lucky: “I love the number 11!” he said as he ran with his basket toward the cone.

Explained Brinks with a grin: “It’s a sneaky way to add steps for the day. Keeps them moving, keeps them active.”

‘How can it be this close and not count as in?’ asks fourth-grader Mason Brinks

Challenge Breeds Creativity 

Gym is a challenging class to teach during a pandemic. But teachers are finding creative ways to get heart rates up while playing by the rules.

Brinks and Jordan Wallin, who teach gym classes at East, North and West Oakview elementaries, are starting this school year with developmental kindergartners through fourth-graders learning “all-sports golf.” 

The unit includes basics such as waiting one’s turn and counting strokes, as well as choosing the proper tool to most efficiently get the job done. But instead of putters and drivers — which schools do not have anywhere near enough of in order for students to be able to have their own, Wallin said — the teachers have gotten creative, using equipment they already have.

“You can see them processing which (implement) they should use for certain shots,” Brinks said.

Wallin and Brinks teach 700 students each, Wallin at East and West Oakview; Brinks at North and West Oakview. They both see half their students twice on alternating weeks.

Both spent the first weeks of the school year on health and safety protocols such as wearing masks and staying within 6-foot-by-6-foot spaces marked off on the gym floor. “There will have to be a lot of that to fully cement it in our brains,” Wallin said.

And the ways they teach certain skills have had to change: “We were oftentimes playing tag games, practicing throwing and catching, sharing and taking turns to work on teamwork,” he said. “We’ve really had to adapt and change things up. 

“So far everyone is getting their own piece of equipment for the entire class period, and we sanitize it before we go to the next class. And we’re having kids ‘mirror’ each other and copy movements so they can still have that partner-to-partner relationship and still have that teamwork feel.”

Wallin said typical learning goals have been narrowed somewhat, from “primarily a continuous movement standard for 90 seconds” for second-graders, to fourth-graders spending six minutes running, skipping or jogging. As for practicing being responsible and respectful to classmates and equipment, “we will still be able to hit those marks with social distancing,” he said.

What’s Next?

Students will practice all-sports golf until about mid-October, Wallin said. The hope is to be outdoors for the next unit, if the weather is mild. Wallin is partnering with the U.S. Tennis Association, which donated 30 rackets, chalk for making pop-up courts and oversize balls for practice. Yoga and aerobics are also very do-able indoors.

“Basketball, floor hockey, those will have to wait,” Wallin said. “But there’s so many things out there we can do. I was excited for this year, just because it’s a new challenge. 

“We need to fight to get kids to continue to have class,” he added. “Just because you can’t play dodgeball doesn’t mean you have to scrap your PE program.”

Brinks, who is teaching elementary PE this year after 15 years at the high school, said he has enjoyed getting back to basics. He started the year teaching students a “dynamic flexibility routine” they do at the beginning of class that prepares their bodies and their cardiovascular systems for activity.

“We’re looking at motor-skill development, proper movement patterns and moving efficiently,” he said. “We have introduced some things to build a good core to work from, in regard to movement and motor skills, and will look to grow those areas.

“Students have adapted very well to our new normal, and have approached our new activities with an open mind.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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