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Gym class isn’t the same thanks to COVID restrictions

  • October 2, 2020

Paul Solarski admitted there were times this past summer when he wondered if physical education would even be offered in 2020-21 at Ontario schools due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ultimately, the co-executive director of the Toronto District Catholic Athletic Association (TDCAA), and gym teachers across Canada’s largest province, were given the green light to offer physical education instruction, albeit in a much different fashion than any other school year. 

Solarski, also athletic director at Brebeuf College School, an all-boys’ high school in Toronto, said he and his fellow gym teachers only discovered the extent of the safety restrictions on Sept. 14, after the school year had already begun. 

“We have divided our students into cohorts of 12-13 students. There may be two different (cohorts) using our gym facilities at the same time, but there will be no mixing of cohorts,” he said.

Brebeuf College School, a Catholic high school founded by Jesuits in 1963, opted for a blended delivery of in-person lessons and virtual at-home instruction. A four-week cycle for one gym cohort would see alternating weeks of in-class and online learning.

Staying on top of social distancing practices was one of Solarski’s most significant tests in week one. 

“We are trying to run a phys ed class while trying to keep our students aware of getting too close,” he said. “We also need to modify how we play certain sports. For example, with soccer, once you receive the ball, you will need to find someone to pass the ball to immediately instead of dribbling the ball.”

Online gym classes present challenges on multiple fronts. One, not being in the same physical space hinders teachers from evaluating how each student connects with an at-home drill or exercise regimen. Two, the fellowship and teamwork aspect of gym is largely stripped away.

A radically different teaching plan is not the only seismic shift Solarski is contending with this autumn. He also is grappling with the fact there will be no TDCAA activities for the fall semester. Solarski is not sure of the potential for a re-launch of sporting events in the winter semester.

Students have thus far displayed a good spirit of co-operation in gym class. Some students had not seen their classmates since the COVID-19 shutdowns in March. 

“It was difficult at first to ensure the proper distancing, but the students are so happy to be back in school with their friends that they will continue to work at following the guidelines,” said Solarski. 

Health stipulations mean sports typically played in the fall, flag football or ultimate frisbee, will need to be reimagined or set aside.

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