Q&A with an educator: Physical education teacher works to connect with students through outdoor activities

  • Amy Girard teaches physical education to grades K-4 at Henniker Community School. Amy Girard / Courtesy photo

Monitor staff
Published: 3/15/2021 5:07:32 PM

Amy Girard is introducing her students to some new physical skills this year, while adapting her PE classes to COVID times.

Girard has been teaching physical education to grades K-4 at Henniker Community School for seven years. Since COVID-19 has limited the use of indoor spaces, Girard has been holding class outside as much as possible this year, and coming up with creative activities like snowshoeing and sled races outdoors, and cardio drumming in classrooms when there’s inclement weather.

“I might have had this plan to be outside but all of a sudden its raining and we need to be inside, so now I need to have something different,” Girard said. “This year has showed me that I’m really very good at being flexible.”

Girard attended college at New England College in Henniker, where she got a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and returned for a master’s in education, and liked the community so much she decided to stay. Girard, who lives in Henniker, is also a part-time assistant coach for the women’s basketball team at New England College.

Girard sat down with the Concord Monitor recently to discuss teaching physical education during COVID-19. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Q: What has changed in the way you teach PE this year?

A: So we’re trying to be outside as much as possible. I go in their classrooms to teach when it has been raining or too cold to go outside. The middle school kids have been using the gym as their indoor space when they need to be, because taking middle school kids into their classroom to do PE class was just more of a challenge for them than it would be for me with elementary school kids. It’s just really important that we make sure that the kids all have the appropriate clothes on to be outside. It was about 7 or 8 degrees out there this morning, but all my students were bundled up and we were out there for about half an hour. It was a good opportunity for them and get out some of that energy and have some fun.

What different activities have you done this year?

I brought pool noodles to use for drumming. We would do cardio drumming and I would have different routines to different songs. We did it right before Halloween so they were Halloween songs and music that we would drum to. And it wasn’t just drumming, their bodies were moving and there were different physical activities were involved in the drumming as well.

We were very fortunate this year in that Henniker qualifies for grant funding from the Department of Education, and we were able to provide snowshoes through that fund this year. We have a big field behind the school and there’s a small trail. We were able to play some tag games with snowshoes on, and I was able to take them on some short trail walks. One thing that I did with the fourth graders is snowshoe sled racing. I attached ropes to regular plastic sleds and I had one student sit in the sled and one student would wear snowshoes and would run and pull them and we’d have races back and forth. Snowshoeing was definitely something new for a lot of the students and they really enjoyed it.

And we’re also able, because we have a hill right there on our playground, to just go sledding. Sledding has always been a part of recess for our students, but because they’re in cohorts this year and they have certain spots for students and they rotate every day, sledding really wasn’t an option because of how things are being done. So I said I would take on sledding for PE class.

Do the kids enjoy being outside?

They really miss being in the gym. But the kids have been really great, they’re very understanding and really willing to do whatever it takes for them to be at school. So they know they need to be outside. We always have to give them a reminders of, “make sure you’re prepared, it’s going to be cold,” or “it’s going to be rainy,” or “you need boots.” They miss being in the gym but they’ve done a really nice job of being able to be flexible in where we are.

What got you interested in teaching PE?

Teaching physical education has been what I’ve always wanted to do, probably since high school. I’ve always played sports, I’ve always been competitive and athletic. I’ve played soccer, basketball, softball from when I was 5 years old all the way through college. Going into high school I think we had six PE teachers in high school. It made a decision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life very easy, just to be able to see what they got to do all day. By the time I became a senior, at the school I went to it wasn’t required for seniors to take PE class and I was extremely bummed out because that is what I wanted to take. So I actually was able to help out with a freshman class, so I got to help teach here and there when I was a senior in high school which kind of helped me decide this is what I want to do.

Do you have any favorite moments in teaching?

The “aha” moments are always the best, when a student finally gets something. And it can be something as simple as jumping rope or catching a ball or throwing something into a target and they hit the target and they’re just so excited that they were able to do something. Maybe its something they always knew how to do, and maybe it’s something they just learned how to do. But that “aha” moment when a student learns how to do something or gets better at something and they’re just so excited, that’s the best part.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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