SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ –South Plainfield students from preschool through fourth grade are currently competing against their peers in the United States and other areas of the world as part of the first-ever International Distance Learning Olympics.

Prior to spring break, Jillian Mahon, the district’s preschool/adapted elementary physical education (PE) teacher, posted her idea to create an Olympic challenge in the ‘Online School Closure Educator Support for PE’ Facebook group. In the weeks that followed, support grew and, currently, a total of six PE teachers from around the globe are collaborating across four time zones to develop sport skills related video challenges for students.

“With everyone distance learning during the pandemic I wanted to create innovative and fun lessons to keep the students active and engaged. I use Google Meets to interact with my students and, overall, they miss seeing their friends and participating in their after-school activities,” said Mahon. “This idea was a way to try and bridge that gap; where they can participate alongside friends from not only across town but around the world, as well.”

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On a local level, Mahon along with Lisa Murray (Roosevelt), Frank Gaspari (Riley), Alan Hook (Kennedy) and Bill Pavlak (Franklin) are incorporating the International Distance Learning Olympics into their scheduled PE classes. Globally, two schools in Billings, MT, one from Cleveland, OH, one from Lincolnshire, England and one from Adelaide, Australia are also participating.

“It is amazing to see how a small simple idea can take root and flourish into the global effort it has become,” said Mahon.

South Plainfield kicked off the International Distance Learning Olympic Challenge on April 27 with a Virtual Opening Ceremony– an ‘Eye of the Tiger’ exercise dance followed by a virtual torch relay - through the competing countries. The program runs through May 15 and, during the second and third weeks, new grade-appropriate sport skill related challenges will be incorporated into virtual physical education classes; they include, but aren’t limited to, striking/striking with an implement (volleyball, tennis, golf, baseball, Australian Rules football, and field hockey); throwing/passing (netball, cricket, and football); dribbling (soccer and basketball); rolling (bowling); and physical fitness (track and field and netball).

“In addition to our own curriculum, the challenges will provide the students exposure to new sports that we don’t traditionally cover or are familiar with in the United States,” said Mahon, adding that there will also be challenges from professional athletes such as Emma Wiggs, a paracanoe Paralympic Gold medalist from the UK, as well as, New Jersey’s own, Carli Lloyd, US Women’s Soccer two-time Olympic Gold medalist and two-time World Cup Champion.

The district’s PE teachers will also continue to encourage sportsmanship skills like the importance of fairness, honesty, and during sporting events. Additionally, students are encouraged to compete in beginner and intermediate level challenges. Points will be awarded to each school based on the percentage of students that participate. The South Plainfield elementary school with the highest percentage of participation will be named The Distance Learning Olympics Champion and receive a trophy to display in their school.

“My colleagues and I recognize that the end of the school year traditionally includes many events that the students look forward to, such as Fun and Fitness Day. Our PE department hopes providing an event like this will continue to keep them active in a fun new way,” said Mahon.

“I would like to thank the district’s elementary physical education teachers for their support and corporation in implementing the event into their virtual classrooms, as well as the elementary school principals and district administrators for their support,” she continued.

Mahon also extended gratitude to the professional athletes and physical education educators who created the challenges, ‘without whom, this project would not have been possible.’ They include Erin Sutherland-Evans and Molly Reas from Billings, MT; Amanda Love from Cleveland, OH; Daniel Pearce from Adelaide, Australia, and Gemma Alcoran, Head of Sport, from Lincolnshire, England.

Parents/guardians of South Plainfield Elementary students are encouraged but not required to upload videos and photos of their children participating in International Distance Learning Olympics challenges through a link posted in all pre-K through fourth grade PE Google Classrooms.

“We hope our students are excited about taking part in this unique experience where they can participate in challenges alongside students their age from down the street to around the world.” said Mahon. “It’s an amazing opportunity to inspire students to learn something new and stay active inside and outside the virtual classroom.”

Parents and guardians seeking more information about the International Distance Learning Olympics can email Jillian Mahon at jmahon@spboe.org. Video and photo submissions should be uploaded to https://forms.gle/hoFxpUPQaVNmVyfV8.

If you have a child who lives or attends schools outside of the South Plainfield School District who would like to participate in the Olympic challenges, you can find them at https://sites.google.com/view/intdistancelearningolympics

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