PA Distance brings the classroom to each student, virtually, every day. Art is brought to life, the sounds and haptics that inspire music are revealed, and the chemistry of life on earth is explored in each of our virtual classrooms.
The same is true for the Health & Physical Education classes at PA Distance. Our five Health & Wellness Teachers are dedicated to creating a welcoming environment where students learn to maintain a healthy lifestyle at home and throughout their lives. Mr. Reda, Ms. Hedderman, Mrs. Sabol, Mr. Hughes, and Mrs. Smith bring passion, enthusiasm, and heart to our classrooms. They split K-12 grade levels between the five of them, making the teacher-to-student ratio extremely low, which is often a rarity among public schools.
“The first question I got when I started at PA Distance was ‘how’?” Mr. Reda explained, who teaches 3rd and 7th-grade Health & Wellness. He said that after learning he was teaching physical education classes at a cyber school, his friends and family had a difficult time understanding how things were done virtually.
“It’s my favorite question,” 1st, 4th, and 6th-grade Health & Wellness teacher, Mrs. Sabol, said, who gets the asked same question every time she meets someone new.
“I tell them that we’ve found innovative ways to do it,” Mr. Reda said. “We bring physical education to them, wherever they are, and give them the building blocks to use for the rest of their life.”
Before the school year begins, every student is sent equipment that they need for each of their physical education classes. Depending on their grade level, they could receive poly spots, stair steppers, stability balls, yoga mats, jump ropes, hula hoops, and resistance bands. When they graduate from PA Distance the equipment is theirs to keep. Typically, each class gets three pieces of equipment to use and the teachers show students the best way to utilize each piece for various exercises.
“I try to use all three pieces of equipment in each class,” Mr. Reda said. “As a school, we do a really good job providing students with what they need and use our resources to bridge that gap and provide them with a quality education,” he added.
At PA Distance, the health and the physical education lessons are combined into one class. Half of each live-learning class is used to teach the students new and unique ways to exercise in their own homes. The other half is used to teach students topics like food and nutrition, weight management and exercise, mental health issues, safety, and first aid tips - depending on the grade level. As a public school, PA Distance follows all of the Pennsylvania curriculum standards for each grade level.
“I try to connect the health class content with the physical part of the class,” said 8th-grade Health & Wellness Teacher, Mrs. Stephanie Smith. “When I teach my kids about nutrition, I teach them the connection between burning calories with exercise and consuming calories with food.”
Each teacher takes their own approach to how they plan their 45-minute classes. Using a special teaching room complete with a large TV screen, wide-angle lens camera that moves, and all of the exercise equipment that they need, each teacher brings their content alive for their students.
“I like to start each class with a light exercise to help get their blood flowing and wake up their brains,” kindergarten, 4th, and 5th-grade Health & Wellness Teacher, Mr. Hughes explained. “When teaching a new exercise, I will either show them how to do it using a picture or video and then I do it on camera along with them,” he added. If an exercise is too difficult for a student, an easy modification can be made to get the same benefits.
Mrs. Smith teaches 8th-grade Health & Wellness but also has an adapted class for kids who need more individualized attention. She worked at a special needs school before starting at PA Distance so with that, she brings a variety of skills to her adapted class.
“I learned to adapt to teaching kids with different abilities and learning styles,” Mrs. Smith explained. “I want all of my students to feel comfortable, free to learn, and ask questions.”
To show off the techniques that they learned in class, students will get on camera or create a Flipgrid for their teachers to watch. Sometimes, the teachers even let the students lead a class exercise themselves. They get on camera and show the rest of their classmates how to perform an exercise using their supplied equipment.
“My students love getting on camera to show me, and the rest of the class, an exercise,” Mrs. Sabol, said. “They get very excited and raise their hands to volunteer to lead.”
In the younger grades, sometimes even parents join into live lessons, Mr. Reda explained. “I’ll see parents on the camera with their 3rd grader as they do an exercise together,” Mr. Reda said. “It’s really nice to see parent involvement so that kids understand the importance of exercise.”
Each Health & Wellness student keeps a fit log, where they document exercise that they get outside of class, with the goal of 180 minutes each week. To accommodate this, students might mimic some of the exercises taught in class on their own time, walk their dog, go to their local park, or even participate in their YMCA. While attending PA Distance, interested students also have the opportunity to participate in their local school district sports teams.
“When I was working at a traditional school, I focused a lot on team sports in my physical education classes. But, I actually think the format at PA Distance is more beneficial because we teach them how to get exercise by themselves,” explained 9-12th grade Health & Wellness teacher, Ms. Lauren Hedderman.
“A few of my students play football and basketball for their local districts which I notice in their fit logs,” Mrs. Sabol said. “They can also do jumping jacks, squats, or anything else we teach.”
Similar to other subjects at PA Distance, Health & Wellness teachers also collaborate with teachers in different subjects. “We’re always talking to one another about what we’re doing in our classes. I’ve worked with one of our music teachers, Mrs. Carpenter, to coordinate lessons where she talks about heart rate as it relates to rhythm,” Mrs. Sabol explained.
“When all of the Health & Wellness teachers at PA Distance collaborate, we always ask ourselves, ‘how can we make this better?’,” Mr. Reda said.
“We try to work together to bring new and exciting activities to the students, so things don’t get boring,” Mr. Hughes noted. “Next week, I’m actually trying out a new activity using drumsticks and stability balls in my 5th-grade class. I’m really excited about it.”
“The students here are still getting the same skills, knowledge, and class content that they would get in a brick-and-mortar school but in a virtual setting,” Mr. Reda explained. “It’s really important that people understand that. “