Gym class has gone virtual for some Columbia Public Schools

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COLUMBIA - Hickman and Rock Bridge High Schools have a new online course: Physical Education.

The program, called Online PE, is an interactive gym class that uses the Internet to electronically monitor a student's physical activity. It was created by a team of coaches for Springfield Public Schools and adopted by Columbia Public Schools this year. Nichole Lemmon of Springfield Public Schools said Online PE is the most popular of their online classes, with 120 students taking it at one time.

"Same class, different mode. We follow the same handbook policy, same syllabus, we just use a different mode," Lemmon said.

The course was designed for students who have physical limitations or students who don't have the time in their schedules to take physical education in school. It requires use of a Fit Kit that includes a dumbbell, resistance band, stability ball, jump ropes and a heart rate monitor.

"We use the FT7 Polar heart rate monitor, and that took a little bit of a sell, but once I figured they were exactly the same as the cost of a textbook, we were pretty much done," Lemmon said.

Students are required to meet with their teacher twice throughout the course, once at the beginning of the semester to learn how to use the program and once at the end for an evaluation. According to Lemmon, the initial meeting also gives students a chance to learn how to use the equipment. 

"We use video demonstrations, and we produce those in house, and then students have to send a video back to their instructor filming themselves lifting or stretching so we can check technique," Lemmon said. 

Some parents said they are skeptical about whether teachers can really hold students accountable for the exercise if it's online.

"They're crazy. Gym is one of those areas where you cannot learn online. You have to be active, you have to be out there, getting healthy," Sue Slay said. "A big part of the problem with having gym class online is you get these kids that are just too lazy to do anything and that, in my opinion, spikes up the obesity in children and even high school kids."

Slay said she believes the younger generation should follow in the steps of their parents when it comes to physical education.

"I say back to basics. Some classes are good online, like your math or science maybe, but [gym] requires the hands-on perspective," Slay said. 

In addition to being worried online gym classes could contribute to childhood obesity, Slay said it would also create social problems.

"I say it would just be easier to do it in the gym class, play basketball, be active. That's really what gym is about, being active. [Taking gym online] sets them up for being non-social. I think they should be socializing with their peers and making those friends," Slay said. 

The program will finish its first semester with Columbia Public Schools in December.

Columbia Public School officials did not return phone calls Thursday evening.