“Hardcore PE is not the priority”: PE reduces contact

Mia Calzolaio and Yin Fei

This year’s Physical Education (PE) program will promote social distancing, prevent large gatherings by closing off the locker rooms, and will require students to wear masks unless they are performing high-intensity aerobic activities or are 12 feet apart, according to the school’s reopening guidelines for the fall.

The content and intensity of the classes have also been reviewed in order to emphasize both limited physical contact for students and elements of social interaction and physical activity, Director of Athletics, Health, and Physical Education Robert Annunziata said. 

Coaches are starting the year with fun and simple exercises like stretching and yoga to allow students to be happy and healthy, Coach Caroline Surhoff said. “We can also add equipment to classes as long as we provide enough for each student and disinfect before and after use,” she said.

Classes will include activities intended to optimize time outside, Upper Division PE Department Chair Amy Mojica said. The classes will range in size, with multiple teachers covering larger groups so that students can spread out and be able to participate in games such as cornhole, bocce, frisbee golf, and tennis, as well as group activities, like body weight exercises, yoga, and pilates. The Athletics Department also designed a golf center on One Acre that has putting and mini golf, she said. 

“It’s definitely an adjustment period, but at this point I think the kids are becoming more and more excited to just be together and participate in something as a group,” Coach Michael Duffy said.

Though the discussion to reinvent the curriculum for the 2020-21 school year began at the start of summer break, the PE Department had been thinking of creative ideas to implement long before the conclusion of HM Online in the spring, Annunziata said.

Every coach has strengths in different areas of PE, so the process of generating a plan involved input from the entire department, Coach Meredith Cullen said. 

One of the goals with this year’s PE curriculum is to maintain a stress-free environment. Mojica said the staff is aware of how overwhelming it is to come back to school with masks and classroom separation, so PE will give students a nice break in the day to throw a ball around, spend time with a different group of people, and participate in some physical activity, especially after months of lockdown.

“We are all somewhat scared or nervous about the unknown and how PE or even regular classes are actually going to be in the future,” Cullen said. “It’s just about trying to get everyone as active as possible within the safety parameters, as well as trying to alleviate all the anxiety.”

Ericka Familia (12) appreciates the time to be more active. “In quarantine, although some of us work out at home, we probably haven’t been able to get the same amount of activity as we would have otherwise,” she said. 

The school wants to use the outdoors for as many activities as possible, but weather may pose an issue for PE classes. On days when they aren’t able to be outside, teachers will have to be more resourceful when finding a place to hold class, Mojicia said. Potential indoor locations for PE include the fitness center, the main gym, the pool deck, and the table tennis center, she said.

Before the year began, students voiced concerns about another challenge they expected to face in PE during the pandemic: masks.

Though Sam Siegel (10) said masks are necessary, he also knows they can be hard to deal with when people need large amounts of air, which might make it difficult to wear one during PE. “Even when I bike outside right now, I always just think about how I am breathing way too heavily to be wearing [one].”

In addition to masks, Siegel said he worries about the weather and wearing modified athletic clothing during the day to compensate for lack of changing rooms. “Despite it being a valiant effort, it might be best to simply suspend PE temporarily,” he said.

However, some students are getting more comfortable with the new activities and expectations after attending class.

Initially, Amanda Katiraei (12) said although she was always confident these measures would be effective in containing the virus, she didn’t know if continuing to have PE would be worth some consequences that could follow. Now, she is enjoying her classes, she said.

“The teachers are very chill and understanding about the fact that a hardcore PE is not the priority at this moment,” Katiraei said. “They don’t expect you to run around a lot, as they are just looking for you to have a good time participating.”

Ashley Chung (11) had her first PE class at the golf center last week. She was excited to start playing mini-golf and spend time outside, she said. “I can see why masks would be an issue if we were doing the same PE exercises as last year, but because they are accompanied by more relaxed activities, I’m not too worried.”

Similarly, Laine Goldmacher (9) enjoyed her first few PE classes, one of which included playing frisbee golf on One Acre. She found them engaging because they included fun activities that weren’t competitive or difficult and kept people moving, she said.

The classes are running smoothly so far, Duffy said. “It’s still early and so it will be little while until we see how the activities will really work out, but I think the school has put together a good plan [for us] that uses the entire campus,” Duffy said. “It’s been great seeing the kids, and I can tell that they are ready to get back into it after so long.”

Although Cullen knows there will need to be future adjustments in accordance with the progression of the coronavirus and its implications for the school, the school is practicing the safest methods possible for PE, she said. “I have total faith in our school, faith that if anybody can do this well, we’re going to do it well, and the students are going to do it well.”