When St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s reopened its doors for in-person learning this fall, school looked a little different. However, the school’s warmth, joy, and love of learning remains intact. Teachers and administrators are working tirelessly, not only prioritizing the academic growth of their students, but their health and social-emotional growth as well. With extensive safety measures in place, they have found new and creative ways to provide instruction and foster community. This includes the physical education (PE) department.
St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s whole-child approach has always meant a commitment to daily PE and recess for students. This year, while many schools have eliminated their PE programs due to the challenges of COVID-19, students at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s have been able to attend PE twice a week.
“I am grateful for every day that I have in person in this school with my team and my students,” says Olivia Gardner, one of six full-time faculty members in the PE department.
The focus for the PE faculty has been planning around social distancing yet still providing dynamic and fun activities to encourage movement and exercise—essential components of optimal brain development during these formative years.
“Though we have some limitations on the kinds of equipment we can use, we are lucky to work at a school that can provide us with all kinds of alternative resources,” says Jenna Crimmins, another member of the PE team.
The ability to utilize outdoor space has been key. Using the school’s driveway, gymnasium, and nearby Riverside Park, the teachers have incorporated dance, warm-ups, and games for early childhood and lower school students, while independent sports such as shadow-boxing, yoga, and nature walks make up the curriculum in the upper division.
"As a staff, we have renewed our dedication to meditation and mindfulness," says Ms. Gardner. “Students and teachers alike need and love it!"
“For early childhood and lower school I have incorporated a lot of storytelling movements,” said Josh Fritz, an 18-year veteran of the PE Department. ”I use books from Eric Carle, and Tai Chi. With the older grades, I have been teaching boxing combinations, and we have done a lot of Tabata training.”
The students, in turn, have shown incredible resilience and flexibility. While it took some time to adjust to wearing masks for PE, they have learned to make them a part of the routine.
“We miss the things we can't do right now, but it’s heartening to see the way the students have adapted—like giving ‘foot fives’ instead of high fives, air hugs, or using sign language,” says Ms. Gardner.
Sean Parker, her colleague, agrees, “Our students have had the most positive effect on me. The joy that I hear during classes makes me so glad that we decided to come back to school,” he says. “I know they’re smiling, even though I can't see through their mask.”
Physical education allows students to actively use their bodies and brains and learn that the two go hand in hand. Despite the pandemic, St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s mission continues—to teach “mind, body, and spirit.”