NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The kids in one of Larry Adamowsky’s physical education classes at Lord Stirling School were shambling about on Halloween as if they were a bunch of 9-year-old zombies.
Maybe they’ve been flapping around like turkeys for Thanksgiving, and maybe they’ll be gliding about like snowmen for Christmas.
This is a snapshot of what virtual phys ed looks like during an unprecedented time when instructors have somehow figured out how to keep dozens of kids tuning in from living rooms and dining rooms across the city on point through the wonders of videoconferencing technology.
“So, obviously in a classroom setting, you would see a bunch of children jumping up and down and doing a lot of different things,” said Jack Bua, physical education instructor at Roosevelt School. “The only difference here is that we’re watching it online and you’re seeing a bunch heads jumping up and down, doing the exercises just as if we were in the classroom. It’s pretty amazing how the kids have been able to adapt to that.”
In a recent interview with Adamowsky, Bua and New Brunswick High School’s Rebecca Coleman, TAPinto New Brunswick learned that it takes a lot of imagination, some innovation and a little exhortation to keep the school district’s nearly 10,000 students up and moving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They say their classes are more important now than it has ever been, considering the lingering pandemic has many of their students feeling cooped up, rundown and stressed out.
“I try to give them as many stress-relievers as possible,” Coleman said. “I try to make this class light, easy, important – because it is. I stress that all the time that their health, their physical health (and) emotional health, are so important. But in ways where it should be easy for them.”
For example, during one recent class, she had the students do a yoga session focusing on the upper back and neck. When they questioned her as to why they would work on some area of the body that seemed random, she told them, “‘Well, listen. You’re staring at a computer screen, looking down. You’re probably hunched over the entire day.’”
Adamowsky, or Mr. A as his students have called him for decades, said there has also been a period of adjustment for the instructors who no longer have the vast expanse of a gym and a treasure trove of equipment at their disposal.
“It’s not so easy because we have to come up with ideas that take no equipment because some of these children have zero equipment,” he said. “If you ask them to get a ball, they don’t have one. And very little space. A lot of these kids don’t have their own rooms. You have to devise the lesson to have no space.”
To do that, he focuses on fitness and yoga. He throws in some cognitive instruction, such as letting them use the computer to look up what muscles they’ve been using during the class or having them look up the benefits of yoga.
Coleman has also been forced to improvise, using bottles of water for weights while leading her students in sets of bicep curls.
Other times, phys ed class is just a time to talk and check in with one another. Coleman said that often students feel more at ease communicating with their gym teachers than, say, their English Lit teacher. Even though they can’t all be in the same room, she still sometimes gives them a chance to exercise nothing more than their vocal cords.
“I was once teaching health class and I had a student say, ‘Is this a therapy session or is this gym class?’” Coleman said. “We were just talking about anything. It was the very first week of virtual learning. It was just us releasing whatever stress we might have or worries we might have of what may come. Honestly, it was such a great session, not just for them, but for me as well to kind of connect with the students.”
Coleman, Bua and Adamowsky say one of their underlying goals is to create a little fun in what has been a trying, uncertain time for the students. With the support of the administration, from Superintendent Aubrey Johnson on down, they’re doing just that – one zombie dance at a time.
“I’ve always said this about New Brunswick kids: They’re pretty amazing,” Bua said. “Having been there for a long time, I had no idea. I come from Hudson County originally. I have to say these New Brunswick kids, after every class, I’m like, ‘You guys are just knocking it out of the park.’ It’s not an easy situation, but they’re making it easy.”