What school gym class looks like in pandemic times

Fitness trainer Myriah Volk (far left) of Sebastopol, California, leads a socially distanced gym class through her PE Express 101 business.

(CNN)For students from Meraki High School outside Sacramento, California, staying fit during the coronavirus pandemic has been as easy as playing solitaire.

Since the school shutdown this spring, students have taken part in a modified physical education class with the help of a special deck of cards. Dubbed "Super Fitness Fun Cards," the deck is comprised of cards with different exercises on each one: push-ups, squats and crunches. There are multiple games students can play with the deck; with most, students can shuffle the cards, take a predetermined number of them, then do the exercises that the cards depict.
The tool is the brainchild of Dan DeJager, physical literacy and wellness advisor at the school in Fair Oaks, California. DeJager is a self-proclaimed "gaming nerd," and he uses the deck in conjunction with instructional videos, Zoom meetings and scavenger hunts to keep kids interested in physical education while they're engaged in virtual learning.
    "It's a great brain break," he said of the cards. "Even if you don't feel like you're working hard, just getting regular exercise can make a huge difference in your day."
      Dan DeJager created Super Fitness Fun Cards to help his students stay stay active in the pandemic. His son Hunter, 10, does push-ups while playing with a deck.
      While DeJager's strategy was creative, it was surprisingly not that unusual. At a time when Covid-19 has turned many long-standing pedagogies upside down, physical education teachers across the country are going to spectacular lengths to keep kids moving and to stay relevant.
      One educator is streaming synchronous fitness classes from her basement. Another made house calls to do burpees with students across the Midwest. A third has put together a roving gym class that also makes house calls.
      Going into the fall semester, these innovations have challenged the way educators think about the health and PE coursework; it will be less about exercise and more about wellness overall.
        "We hope that through this horrible situation that we can raise the value and role that health and PE teachers play in the school," said Michelle Carter, director of educational content and programs at the Society of Health and Physical Educators America. "There's a connection between the mind and the body. Now more than ever, that connection is something we must celebrate."

        Back to basics

        As schools and school districts iron out specifics for the start of the new year, there is no question that physical education is important.
        A recent report from the American Heart Association indicated that cardiorespiratory fitness is a predictor of health conditions in kids but that only 40% of 12- to 15-year-olds in the United States are believed to have a high CRF.