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District finds way to have gym class from home

  • Charles City PE teacher Steve Stallsmith.

  • Wrist-held heart rate monitor.

  • Charles City High School junior Connor Kirsch gets a workout, wearing his wrist-held heart rate monitor, at Charles City High School on Monday. (Photo submitted.)

  • Charles City High School junior Connor Kirsch gets a workout, wearing his wrist-held heart rate monitor, at Charles City High School on Monday. (Photo submitted.)

By James Grob,

An individual should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, according the the U.S Center for Disease Control, and several other health organizations.

At least 30 of those 60 minutes should consist of “moderate to vigorous physical activity,” according to the CDC. This is especially recommended for young people, and it’s one of the reasons school districts have physical education departments. It’s the reason gym teachers like Charles City’s Steve Stallsmith have jobs.

And now there’s COVID-19. Many schools districts, such as Charles City, have moved from on-campus learning to partial or full-time home learning due to precautions. With no gym class to go to, students risk falling behind physically, which also night put them at risk academically, as some studies have shown that physical health and fitness directly relate to academic readiness and development.

So Stallsmith recreated his curriculum at Charles City to work in an online setting, and motivated students to stay engaged by providing them with IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitors.

“Last spring, we just couldn’t make the students do the assignments,” Stallsmith said. “Now, with IHT and lessons as Google Docs, that has helped tremendously. This has saved us a lot of extra steps and we are going to do things.”

The monitors, developed by Interactive Health Technologies, give students the immediate feedback they need to stay on task and give Stallsmith data that he uses to have meaningful conversations with students as they develop wellness skills and healthy habits they can carry with them into their adult lives.

The wrist-based heart rate monitors are designed specifically for K-12 education. Smallsmith can use the real-time feedback the monitors provide to teach students how to self-manage their physical and emotional health.

When COVID-19 forced students into online learning in March, teachers struggled to keep students engaged and accountable to assignments they’d post using Google Classroom. Providing students with the heart rate monitors successfully addressed several challenges Stallsmith saw in the spring.

“The accountability factor is the big decider in what we wanted to do,” Stallsmith said. “We couldn’t make them accountable in the spring, but now we have things in place where they can get things done and send the results.”

That accountability has led to a deeper level of student engagement, Stallsmith said. When students have questions, they reach out to him online or through the Google Doc they complete after a workout.

“I am having better, in-depth conversations with kids about things because they are more apt to ask a question either online or through the Google Doc than they would if we were in our regular class setting,” he said.

Charles City High School has been going with a hybrid PE program for most of the school year. Freshmen and sophomores have on-campus PE on Mondays and Thursdays and juniors and seniors come to PE on Tuesdays and Fridays. Social distancing procedures are strictly followed.

Stallsmith worked with administration to add to his heart rate monitor inventory using direct budget funding so every student enrolled in his classes would have one to use in an online PE program, and in hybrid learning as well. They’ve now become a part of his everyday in-person classroom, COVID or not.

Students learn to tell if they are pushing themselves appropriately in physical education classes as they strive to meet daily goals for minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

“We have kids who saw what we were doing, that they could do things off-campus and just check-in with me,” Stallsmith said. “They are getting things done very nicely on a weekly basis. They are exercising five days a week for 30 or more minutes every day and they have kept at it.”

Stallsmith and students can also monitor emotional wellness. Students can monitor their heart rate to predict the onset of an episode such as an anxiety attack, and use calming techniques to maintain control.

He said students are engaged and seeing the benefits that heart rate training can provide. Most importantly, Stallsmith said, students are staying active when one of their traditional avenues for activity isn’t available to them. He also said that the wrist monitors have helped students work more on individualized fitness plans.

“PE doesn’t have to stop,” Stallsmith said. “I want to instruct them on how to help them become healthy for a lifetime. Today that means engaging them in activities that I didn’t think about before.”