OK, now squats with our arms up! Let’s count down… 20…19…18…17… Straight arms! Pretend like you’re sitting in a chair.
Early on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in a few island schools along the coast, the video conference meeting ring comes through, lights flicker on, and faces showing varying degrees of sleepiness come into focus on the monitor. It is time for the morning exercise meeting. For the next ten minutes or so students and teachers start their day with hops, balances, jumping jacks and stretches, all designed to get hearts pumping and brains awake to start learning.
These weekly meetings happen among the schools of the Outer-Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative (TLC), a group organized with the support of the Island Institute to foster virtual learning communities and collaborative teaching among the one- and two-room island schools on Monhegan, Matinicus, Isle au Haut, Islesford, Frenchboro, and Cliff.
I read about the TLC’s work and immediately wondered what the island schools did for physical education and activity. Through my position as the Youth Development Programs director at the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC) I followed up on my curiosity, and a new collaboration was born.
The island schools have varying numbers of students of all different ages, making “traditional” activities and games challenging. (It’s hard to come up with fun group activities in schools with only a handful of kids!) Some schools do indeed have PE programs taught by on-island helpers or teachers who visit once per week. Other schools have more limited access to professional PE instruction. This project attempts to address these varying needs while working to provide another avenue to strengthen the ties between the six schools.
Much of the TLC work is done via video conferencing technology. Though impressive and useful, the technology works because of the relationships that are fostered and strengthened every year during three in-person field trips.
A fall inter-island event changes location each year and allows students to experience the special flavor of other islands. The group also has two off-island field trips, one in the fall and one in the spring. These field trips allow all of the students to be together, experiencing larger group activities and the fellowship of more students their own age.
I have had the pleasure of visiting a few of these group meet-ups and leading the students in a variety of active games. These days have provided opportunities for physical activity that are only possible—or at least considerably more enjoyable—with more kids.
This school year the TLC and MWSC have embarked on a “year of wellness” featuring more physical activity, more discussions about health and wellness, and a number of group challenges.
In October, the group embarked on a push-up challenge with a goal to complete 1,000 pushups as a group during morning exercise meetings. We exceeded that and then some, racking up over 2,000 pushups during eight mornings!
In November we discussed the importance of eating fruits and vegetables every day. We learned what counts as a serving and for a whole week tried to eat at least five servings a day. These challenges and others like them create opportunities for discussion and forming good habits, as well as a bit of healthy inter-island competition.
My work with the Maine Winter Sports Center brings me all around the state visiting different rural communities. I am always impressed by the many resourceful ways communities have addressed their own unique challenges. This inter-island project is an excellent example of how identifying a need, adding some creative energy, and being resourceful with technology can result in something wonderful.
All right, let’s finish up with our breathing exercises. Take a deep breath in and sweep arms up high. And exhale, sweep your arms down. One more time … deep breath in and up … big exhale and down. Is everyone ready to learn now? Have a great day!