Mr. Kevin Hughes is one of the five Health and Wellness teachers at PA Distance. Growing up, he always had an interest in fitness and working out, so transitioning into a career as a health and wellness teacher made all the sense in the world.
After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) with a degree in K-12 health and physical education, Mr. Hughes later found his place at PA Distance teaching kindergarten, 4th and 5th graders how to live healthy lives, virtually, from their own homes. Now in his second year at PA Distance, Mr. Hughes personalizes his lessons and encourages his young students to find an exercise that they love to do.
“We get into the personal aspect of exercise,” he explained. “We want students to find an activity, no matter what it may be, that makes them want to be active. If you like a specific exercise, you are more likely to want to do it.”
Before the school year begins, every student is sent equipment that they need for each of their health and wellness classes. Depending on their grade level, they may receive poly spots, stair steppers, stability balls, yoga mats, jump ropes, hula hoops, and resistance bands. Usually, each grade level gets three pieces of equipment to use, and the teachers show students the best way to utilize each piece of equipment for a variety of exercises and class activities.
For Mr. Hughes’ classes, Kindergarten gets hop-along balls, balance pods, yoga mats, a hula hoop, and poly spots. 4th-graders get a stepper, exercise ball, and drum sticks, and jump ropes. Lastly, the 5th-graders get a stepper, exercise ball, and drum sticks, and resistance bands.
*Missing from photo: poly spots & drumsticks
Each health and wellness teacher takes their approach to how they plan their live classes. Using a special teaching room with a large TV screen, wide-angle lens camera that moves, and exercise equipment, each teacher brings their content alive for their students. At the beginning of his 45-minute live class, Mr. Hughes jumps right into class exercises. In the second portion of the class, he teaches health-focused topics like food and nutrition, lifelong weight management and exercise, mental health issues, safety, and first aid tips - depending on the grade.
“I like to start each class with a light exercise to help get their blood flowing and wake up their brains,” 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.
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 activity using their supplied equipment.
“Kindergarten, 4th, and 5th love getting on camera during class,” Mr. Hughes explained. “Every exercise that we do, I let a student lead it and show their classmates how to do it along with them.”
He posts a digital “fit log” every Friday morning with their class Google account, where students detail their 180 minutes of exercise, outside of their class, that Mr. Hughes encourages weekly. To do this, students might mimic some of their favorite practices that they learned in class.
Mr. Hughes, along with the rest of the PA Health & Wellness Team, work together to create new lesson plans that stray from the traditional exercises. “We try to work together to bring new and exciting activities to the students, so things don’t get boring,” Mr. Hughes noted.
This year, Mr. Hughes introduced a new activity to get his student’s hearts pumping, and their brains engaged using large exercise balls and drumsticks. While sitting on an exercise ball, students held drumsticks and used them to hit the ball along the beat of a song. On his cue, Mr. Hughes would let the students know when to hit the ball using the drumsticks, and in what way, to make a fun game out of it.
“The new lesson went well, and the kids loved it. They were asking when we would be doing it again,” he noted. “I try to get creative as much as possible to encourage kids to exercise. I want them to realize that it’s important to stay active.”
Since transitioning to a modified learning schedule due to COVID-19, Mr. Hughes has adapted and been giving each of his classes assignments that they can continue to do at home, using programs like Flipgrid.com.
“A lot of kids have been sending me Flipgrid videos and pictures of them exercising before I even assigned it,” he explained. “It was great to see the dedication, especially during this time.” He has also been using resources from KidsHealth and BrainPop to help provide the students with some Health content.
“It’s especially important for students to be exercising now, more than ever. Research shows that exercise helps boost our immune systems and also helps improve our mental health,” he explained.