How can students engage in P.E. when they’re required to stay 6 feet apart from one another? Is it even possible to have fun while wearing masks?
Coaches Gary Guth and Jordan Filiatreau wrestled with these questions as they reimagined physical education for the Lower School students at CCES. How they adapted the curriculum despite the challenges of COVID has been nothing short of heroic.
Reimagining P.E. During the Pandemic
Before the pandemic, the activities room was used as the main space for the P.E. classes in the Lower School. But maintaining social distance in the enclosed space during the pandemic proved to be challenging.
“Gary and Jordan immediately leaned into reimagining physical education for our youngest students,” said Dr. Angela Allen, Associate Head of School. “They immediately took over the outdoor space just outside the activities room.
“The space is wide open and allows students to remain distanced while engaging in physical activity. The use of this space requires a retooling of communication, expectations, and how students are engaged.”
Guth and Filiatreau gathered a speaker, a microphone and headset to communicate, pool noodles, and fun music for the students in the Lower School. They spent the first weeks working with students on outdoor expectations regarding behavior, engagement, use of equipment, body control, and safety.
“I must say one of my favorite things to see and hear are the Lower School students engaging in a pool noodle tag game while jamming out to Kidz Bop!” Allen said. “That is all Gary and Jordan!”
It’s More Than Having Fun
David Johnstone, Lower School Director, said the students playing with noodles and having fun was always a welcome sight.
“Every time I go out there and hear the music and see kids chasing each other with noodles, it raises your own energy level,” he said. “They’re learning different things and are enthusiastic.”
Johnstone says that students having fun during the pandemic is especially important.
“This year P.E. is a premium with COVID and needing to get outside and be with your friends and laugh,” he said. “Coach Guth and Coach Filiatreau have managed to do that and do it in a safe way.
“And it’s not just that the students are masked, but the students are listening to music, having fun, and they get a chance to stay together.”
David Padilla, Head of School, also says the coaches’ efforts have been heroic.
“Gary and Jordan adapted their curriculum, shifted spaces, rethought their activities, and did so with a smile and warmth that the CCES students have come to rely on,” he said.
“Being outside, running around, playing games, and learning at the same time has been as close to ‘normal’ as many of these students have gotten. Jordan and Gary have been central not simply to sustaining the students' physical health but also their mental health and well-being.”
Overcoming another Obstacle
Coach Guth and Coach Filiatreau have overcome more challenges than just the pandemic over the past year.
“Not only did we ask Gary and Jordan to rethink Lower School physical education to create a safe experience, we also decided to install a beautiful, yet large, piece of art right in the middle of their outdoor space,” Allen said.
“Just as they were finding their groove, they had to shift once again.”
The giant sculpture required the area to be off limits while workers were creating and building it. For several weeks, the coaches rose to the challenge and used other spaces around campus.
“It was no problem for the coaches to go to another location,” said Valerie Riddle, the Lower School Assistant Director.
“The coaches have a ‘can-do,’ ‘sure, no problem,’ ‘we can do that’ mindset. Now that the sculpture is finished, they are right back in place. Watching the children play tag, working on skills, running, playing and laughing in, out, and around the sculpture puts all of us in the best mood each day. And the children love it.”
Allen also appreciated how the coaches provided students the opportunity to play around the project to see the wonder of it coming together.
“This space, named Sacred Grove after the beautiful Patrick Daugherty installation, is magical,” Allen said. “Physical education in the Lower School now incorporates the beautiful structures to create opportunities for students to experience depth and joy in their everyday instruction.”
“The coaches see dozens of classes a day,” Johnstone said. “They see their students multiple times a week, and they make sure they have a fun, physically active healthy opportunity to get around and move around.”
And since the pandemic began, the students missed only one day being outside because of weather
Going Above and Beyond
As if their teaching duties were not enough, Coach Guth and Coach Filiatreau proved to be heroes by coaching as well as helping out with carpool.
“The team-building they do with students with that age is amazing,” Riddle said. “While they all love to win -- whether win or lose - they love their team, their sport, and their coaches.”
The way Coach Guth and Coach Filiatreau interact with the students even during carpool is heroic.
“Because they work with every child in the Lower School, they know everyone's name and family,” Padilla said. “This means they offer individualized greetings for every child who arrives at CCES. This personal touch is impressive to witness, and the children clearly appreciate it.”
Perhaps the greatest testament to Coach Guth and Coach Filiatreau’s heroic efforts may come from the atmosphere they have created for the Lower School students during the pandemic.
“When I walk past the Sacred Grove and see the children running and hear their laughter and the music is blasting, I have to stop and watch,” Riddle said.
“Such joy, such life. And I have to say to myself, ‘God is good. We are doing this. Life is good.’
“It gives us all hope and a sense of optimism and normalcy during this unusual time.”