A new way to break a sweat

Even at home, Perkins students keep on moving with adapted physical education

During an adapted physical education lesson, Maggie gets ready for an endurance test of sorts, where she holds a towel in front of herself and airs it out for up to a minute at a time.

Class starts with teacher Megan O’Connell Copp instructing her nine students to stretch their arms all the way up, as high as they can go, then all the way down, as low as possible, holding still at each end for just a moment so everyone can feel the burn. 

With everyone limbered up, she continues, addressing her students over Zoom: “You don’t need much room for today’s activities. Just a little space in front of you and to your sides.”

The class then dives into a series of multi-movement exercises, including side bends, swimmers and a workout where every student rigorously airs out a towel in front of themselves. 

This is adapted physical education (APE) in the age of remote learning. 

It’s been difficult, O’Connell Copp admits, especially considering a stable wifi connection is as important to her lessons these days as is room to move around. 

But at Perkins, teachers, students and families have been working together to find new ways to keep active. And today, APE — phys. ed. individualized and modified for students with disabilities — continues across the school. 

“We want to encourage kids to move, move, move, in any way they’re able,” says O’Connell Copp. “ But we’re also trying to provide kids with a bit of normalcy and familiarity. They’ve really taken to it. The participation is amazing.”

One of the biggest challenges has been providing individualized instruction when teachers have a virtual classroom full of students. 

To overcome the hurdle, O’Connell Copp says she’s been talking a lot more throughout her entire lessons, trying to address individuals while communicating with parents in the room to show them how they can adapt the more generalized exercises being taught.

“I’ve learned lots of seated exercises to encourage Chloe to do while home,” says parent Katie, whose daughter, Chloe, looks forward to APE classes each week. “[The teachers] go out of their way to include all students and all abilities.”

A young girl in a wheelchair sits with a blanket held in front of her as part of a phys. ed. lesson.

Chloe gets ready to air out a blanket in lieu of a towel.

Then, of course, there’s the simple fact of conducting class without popular campus amenities like the pool, gym and outdoor track, which often set the scene during APE lessons under normal circumstances. But teachers have adapted to that too. 

As they’ve done in every subject, APE teachers have been working with students and families to figure out what materials they have at home that can be easily turned into tools for physical fitness. 

Through that collaboration, a milk jug might become a free weight. A roll of duct tape, a ball. A towel, as described in the scene above, becomes an endurance test. 

A boy stretches his arms up.

James stretches before class.

And all these lesson plans and workouts are catalogued online and made available for students and families, should they feel the need to get moving during their own free time. 

Back in O’Connell Copp’s class, though, students are breaking a sweat. Parents are visible off to the side, coming into focus now and again to encourage their kids to push themselves and adapt the lesson on screen to fit their needs. And while everyone is having fun, it’s clear they’re all excited for the day they can get back to campus. 

When the class starts doing “swimmers,” a movement that mimics the act of a freestyle swim stroke, Secondary Program student Sai can’t contain his enthusiasm. 

“I miss the pool!” he shouts, inspiring some chatter and agreement among his peers. 

“I know,” O’Connell Copp says. “Me too.” 

And with that shared moment of longing, they resume the task at hand. They all just keep moving.

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