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Cheryl Wardell shares the victories and struggles as a P.E. teacher during COVID-19.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Physical education teacher Cheryl Wardell leads her online class of elementary students in a dance from her living room.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adapt in many ways, including the way we exercise.

Cheryl Wardell, who teaches physical education at William Walker Elementary School in Beaverton, knows exactly about the struggles of teaching a subject that is routinely done in person. Wardell, 57, teaches a 30-minute physical education class on Zoom to students already participating in their regular classes.

"(Students) move through kind of like you would in a (regular) class," said Wardell. "There's a warmup, some skill work, some fitness (and) some knowledge."

Along with working with them live, Wardell also gives students virtual activities they can do online, such as a game where participants can virtually dodge snow. Her lesson plans also include weekly templates students can do outside of class.

This week, Wardell's students are doing the towel fold target challenge. This requires kids to lightly throw a ball made of socks on top of a hand towel. Students can then practice the activity during the week by watching a video.

Wardell says it has been helpful that there has been an explosion of physical education on YouTube to help her students and her lessons.

Other videos include content about flexibility, cardio and respiratory endurance. Before the class is over, students practice an eight-minute yoga cooldown that focuses on breathing and flexibility.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Physical education teacher Cheryl Wardell leads her online class of elementary students in a dance from her living room.

Wardell says she has incorporated these skills prior to the pandemic but can be especially useful during this time.

"It is something that they can do without disturbing their classroom, if their mom is on a Zoom meeting," explained Wardell. "And I do believe that it's meeting the needs of a lot of our kids to be able to focus on their breathing, and the calming that it does for the body when you're anxious."

There is also the issue of accessibility. Many students don't have access to a yard, or they may live an apartment with their family.

Wardell tries to keep their struggles in mind when planning lessons or activities for the week.

"Teaching them how to adapt their movements so that they're not bothering the people below them," she said. "We're using a lot of mindfulness and calming as much as we are heart-pumping, because all of us need different activities at different times to meet different needs, but we all need that physical activity."

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Physical education teacher Cheryl Wardell utilizes online workouts, like a Minecraft-themed regime, to keep her students engaged.

Along with yoga, the Beaverton School District also offers a marathon kids program. The running program is offered to kids and parents in lieu of an after-school club activity.

Families can sign up for the program and send in their miles. Wardell says it has been a great way to connect with parents and families.

As for visibility, the Beaverton School District does not require students to turn on their cameras while participating in live virtual classes.

Many would think this requirement would be difficult for a physical education teacher, but Wardell says she doesn't need to see students to know that they are learning.

"We are teaching all types of physical skills, but we're not assessing them on whether they can stretch or how they throw a ball," said Wardell. "We've developed (strategies) and constantly share different strategies to make sure our kids are engaging to get feedback, even though the camera is not on."

During class, Wardell uses a "Minecraft" fitness game, based off the popular video game.

She also uses the chat and audio functions on Zoom during physical education classes to better interact with students.

But spring was a different story when it came to remote physical education classes. Wardell remembers students not having meet a huge requirement for P.E.

Teachers were given about 10 days to come up with different activities for students to get them outside and moving.

Luckily, for Wardell and many other teachers, they created a page on the Beaverton School District website five years ago called Brain Boost. The page includes resources for physical activity at home, dances filmed by school staff, and dances kids can do in their chair.

Despite having resources readily available, Wardell said filming exercise videos did not compare to finally teaching a live class.

"The first time I was back in the classroom was a few weeks into remote learning, and I kind of teared up just to actually see my kids," recalled Warnell about the spring.

With March around the corner once again, Warnell hopes her kids have learned a lot about resilience during this time.

"Physical (movement) for everyone right now is such a huge piece of your mental wellness. I'm hoping my students learn that they can take and adapt and craft their movement for a lifetime themselves," she said. "I'm hoping that this gives them more tools in their toolbox as they move on as adults and discover things that they're good at, things they can improve and things that can add wellness to their life."

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Physical education teacher Cheryl Wardell interacts with her online class of elementary students as she gets them ready to exercise.


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