With Fun Games on Campus, Hybrid PE Leaves Out Students on Zoom

The GDS high school fitness center. Photos by Kaiden J. Yu.

GDS’ high school physical education program has faced challenges engaging students attending classes online and in person alike during the past several months of hybrid learning. Teachers have struggled to instruct virtual students while taking advantage of new possibilities for class participation on campus.

“When I’m attending virtual PE,” freshman Anna Ford, who has returned to school twice a week, said, “it feels very individual and definitely not like I’m a part of a class because there is just a very limited amount of interaction.” 

Before students returned to the high school campus in early November, the PE curriculum for freshmen and sophomores consisted of teacher-led instruction on Zoom, YouTube workout videos and online workout logs where students recorded their out-of-class activity, including using tracking apps for runs and workouts. When hybrid learning started, teachers gradually introduced in-person activities, such as cornhole and weightlifting, while virtual students continued to do the workout videos, sometimes without teacher supervision. 

Physical Education Department Chair Taylor Brown said that using videos even for students on campus worked well for the first few weeks of hybrid learning but grew untenable as GDS loosened its COVID restrictions. “Recently, it has become more difficult to not give the students in person some experience with playing games and doing activities while keeping your at-home students engaged,” he said.

Instead, Brown has been spending more and more class periods outside on the field or in the gym, mainly doing various games and activities with in-person groups. He admitted that it has been a struggle for him and the two other PE teachers to focus equally on the in-person and virtual sections of his class, emphasizing internet problems outside. All three students interviewed by the Bit said that they are sometimes left unmonitored while following workout videos, while teachers participate in on-campus activities.  

“We do a 20-minute workout and then leave the Zoom while they do something outside,” freshman Sebastian Curto, who will attend school online for the rest of the school year, said of his in-person classmates. “I’m not as involved as you would be if you were in person.”

The GDS high school gym.

While at school, Ford has appreciated playing more games in PE class. On the flip side, Ford has felt even less motivated doing workouts at home—and enjoyed them less—because class has been even less communal than during all-virtual school. Instead of seeing 10 or so of her peers working out alongside her, she now sees just a few of them working out at home while her teacher’s camera provides a complete view of the in-person students playing a fun game.

Students doing PE class from home have faced other challenges, too, such as lags in screen-shared YouTube videos and difficulties properly mimicking the workouts’ exercises without direction, sometimes leaving them lost or confused.

Sophomore Leo Pivato, who has returned in person, has felt disconnected from the rest of his classmates when he is on Zoom. Pivato has had to do workouts in his bedroom and limit the amount of noise he makes doing exercises like burpees and high knees because his parents work downstairs.

While GDS PE has faced setbacks during the pandemic,exercise still contributes to students’ physical and mental wellness. After long spans of sitting down and looking at a computer, PE class has provided freshmen and sophomores with the opportunity to move, whether alone at home or with classmates on campus.

“I haven’t been going to in-person PE for too long, but I think that it has been fun so far,” Pivato said.

Curto has found PE helpful in motivating him to be active, allowing him to escape the seemingly never-ending cycle of “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom on my chair.” After weeks of feeling overlooked, Curto is confident that the PE department will try its best to keep the remaining virtual students involved in class. 

With all students able to attend classes in person four days a week, Brown plans to split his class periods between workouts for all students, both in school and at home, and days when those on campus play games. Brown wants to “bring back” into the fold students who, like Curto, will remain online for the rest of the year, so they might feel closer in spirit despite working out by themselves far apart from their classmates.