Documentation, communication key to online summer PE class

Does physical education need to take place in the school gym? According to staff and students at Charlottesville High School, the answer is “no.”

Charlottesville High School recently wrapped up its second year of offering students the chance to fulfill their physical education credit by taking a virtual course over the summer. The program’s goal, administrators say, is to grant students greater flexibility in their schedules so that they can pursue individualized interests during the school year.

“Schools have different philosophies around summer opportunities for students,” said Deb Cook, who serves as principal of Charlottesville’s summer school. “At CHS, we focus not only on credit recovery but also on providing opportunities for acceleration.”

Although online physical education may seem like an oxymoron, teachers say the course is rigorous both academically and physically, and that the grades achieved are consistent with those received in face-to-face classes.

For many students, the online course allowed them to receive credit for an active lifestyle they already maintained.

Eve Kendrick, a rising freshman, said completing the online coursework was well worth satisfying a credit that will allow her to take Advanced Placement psychology in the fall.

Each week, athletes such as Kendrick completed logs of their physical activity that had to be signed by a trainer, coach or other supervising adult who was not a parent. Students had to complete varied exercise for seven hours a week, spread out over at least five days. To ensure accountability, teachers would then call coaches to confirm the logs were correct.

For those not on a sports team, teachers adapted the reporting requirements to fit the nature of the students’ exercise program, making use of running and biking apps on smartphones.

“We got creative,” said Jessica Brantley, a physical education teacher at Charlottesville High School who developed the course curriculum. “For example, for students who walked to work every day, they could send us a Google map of the distance they had to walk.”

In addition to responding to concerns of accountability and rigor, Brantley said she and other online instructors focused on maintaining tight communication with students throughout the course. Students participated in a mandatory orientation, and teachers held office hours once a week.

“Some students may not be as motivated to do their work when the teacher is not in the classroom,” said Brantley. “So any time a student missed a week’s worth of assignments, I would contact the students and their parents.”

Each week students had written assignments to submit online, which were developed in accordance with the Virginia Physical Education Standards of Learning. Assignments varied from reflecting on the output of workouts to creating PowerPoint presentations.

“The course was definitely a lot of work, several hours each week,” Kendrick said.

“It is fair to say that the level of rigor may even be ramped up for the virtual courses,” Cook said, “because of the additional skill sets students have had to learn to take a class online.”

Charlottesville High School teachers also have developed online curriculums for health and economics and personal finance, both of which are required for graduation.

A hundred students enrolled in the city’s online courses this summer, including some students from outside of the division.

Administrators said they are optimistic about the role online courses will play in the future as schools increasingly adapt to tailor education to individual interests and learning styles.

“The online course may not be for everyone,” Brantley said. “But I believe we have developed a program that is meaningful and valid.”