guthrie hood

Champaign Central physical education teacher Guthrie Hood films one of his instructional exercise videos in a the new weight room at Champaign Central High School on Wednesday, October 7, 2020.

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More than 100.

That’s how many videos Guthrie Hood has posted to his personal YouTube page in which he shows viewers how to complete a certain exercise.

Abdominal workouts. Squats. Planks. Pushups. Most of the instruction is accomplished in less than a minute.

It’s just one way a physical education teacher can continue working with students during the virtual learning era created amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hood, a Champaign Central P.E. and health instructor since 2011, already was crafting such videos for his functional life skills students — those who are differently-abled.

So, when Unit 4 School District officials announced in August that all of their students would begin the 2020-21 academic year in remote learning, Hood took this approach to all of his P.E. classes.

“I think I was a little bit more comfortable going into it,” said Hood, also the Maroons’ girls’ cross-country and track and field coach. “But it’s definitely a new situation because you don’t really have the resources to do physical activity in those spaces, and some of our kids don’t even have much space within their living environment.”

And he’s not the only local teacher who’s needed to uncover new ways to offer direction in a field that regularly depends upon in-person gathering. Those at Danville, Uni High and Urbana also are in the same boat.

Approaches vary, but a reliance upon instructional videos — either created by the teacher or an outside source — in coursework and sheer trust is evident among teachers who spoke with The News-Gazette.

“We are kind of just searching for resources — basically drawing on our own resources,” said Todd Orvis, in his 23rd year teaching P.E. to students in Danville. “It’s challenging. A lot of what’s making this nerve-racking for me personally is not knowing if you’re doing the right thing.”

Both Orvis and Hood said they don’t have step-by-step guidance from those within their districts about how they should teach P.E. remotely.

Uni High P.E. teacher Rachael Brewer is in a different boat. She and others in the Illineks’ health department utilize a service called PLT4M, which includes instructional exercise videos and related academic assignments.

The website also permits Brewer to see exactly what the kids in each of her five P.E. classes are accomplishing, by showing the amount of time a student spends watching a video and requiring responses to a prompt or series of questions afterward.

This was something Uni High already had at its disposal prior to the pandemic, but it’s become much more important to Brewer and her coworkers this fall.

“It’s much different than anything we’ve ever done for P.E. For one, we’ve never assigned homework because we’ve never done anything not physically based,” said Brewer, the Illineks’ cross-country coach who is in her third year as a P.E. and health instructor. “They’re just reading or listening to a video or podcast. I encourage students to go outside and go for a walk or (use an) elliptical or bike. Since it’s remote-only, students are getting a lot of screen time.”

There are two overarching programs for Brewer’s classes: a 100-level mobility series that focuses on yoga and Pilates, and a more-intense 300-level fitness setup that includes more cardio.

Some students, Brewer said, actually have asked to create new content. But Brewer asks them to stay mindful of the fact not all students have access to the same amenities that may be required for this new workout.

“Right now we’re keeping it constant so everyone’s doing the same things in all the classes,” Brewer said. “It was great that we had this really awesome platform that adapted so quickly and created these programs.”

Though Brewer sees multiple positives in Uni High’s use of PLT4M, including the ability to track how a student has grown athletically from one year to the next through data recorded by the website, she also laments the loss of the relationship-building element associated with in-person P.E.

“It’s hard to connect,” Brewer said, “because some students just are not comfortable sharing their video. And so especially with the new subbies (eight-graders) it’s really hard because I don’t know what they look like. I haven’t ever met them in person.”

Orvis, who is also Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin’s cross-country coach, said the early stages of the Vikings’ virtual P.E. experience were spent getting students accustomed to using Google Classroom. Orvis said he’s been told about 33 percent of a class curriculum “should be us presenting material or lecturing.”

“Basically the other two-thirds is going to be them either doing work, or it could be us introducing a workout for the first 15 to 20 minutes,” Orvis said, “and then the kids are required to do a workout.”

Orvis said he and his colleagues envision about a quarter of their students’ grade coming from each kid filling out a training log that shows physical activity completed.

“It’s going to have to be on an honor system ... because we cannot force a kid to stand in front of their camera and exercise,” Orvis said. “Most have a cell phone, and I’m not sure we can make this mandatory, but they can download free apps that have a GPS feature. Whether they’re walking or running or doing a cardio workout, they can do a screenshot and send it back to us, and that can be a form of actually holding them accountable.”

Orvis said he plans to take advantage of the DAREBEE Workouts website, which offers various types of workouts in addition to nutrition advice.

“I was just thinking about ... how my knowledge and background can be expanded as well once we go back to in-person learning,” Orvis said, “using some of those websites like DAREBEE in some of our weekly workouts and changing things up.”

Hood is at the forefront of changing things up, thanks to his YouTube videos. He said he hasn’t received much student reaction but added that parents have told him they’re cashing in on the chance to work out alongside their youngsters.

“The expectation is they get 30 minutes of activity a day,” Hood said. “They’re able to choose their activity they want to do, which has honestly been one of those silver linings. ... This has provided an opportunity for kids to realize there are things they can do in their own lives — like walking a pet, taking advantage of a skate park — that allow physical activity (and) that aren’t necessarily structured like a P.E. class.”

Hood’s biggest worry in the virtual era, which was echoed by Orvis, centers on students actually staying active without in-person oversight from a P.E. teacher.

“They could fall back and be in worse physical shape than what they were in when they left us,” Hood said. “If you don’t practice math, science or reading you may not see any growth, but you may not necessarily slide backward. But with physical education if you don’t do that work ... you can slide backward.”

Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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