“It’s super easy to make up numbers for each item on the log, so that’s what I did. At the end of the course you re-evaluate your fitness to see if you made your goals. I was careful to fill out the log making sure I didn’t meet my goals in every single area,” explained an anonymous online physical education participant.
Personal Fitness is, along with the rest of the courses offered at VLACS, growing immensely in popularity. VLACS, short for Virtual Learning Academy, began May 9th, 2007, with roughly 700 students enrolled in courses. Today, there are approximately 12,000 students in full segment courses (year long), and 24,000 in half segments (semester long). More and more students have been opting to take an online class in recent years. Personal Fitness is described by www.vlacs.org as, “ [in the course] students are required to participate in weekly cardiovascular, flexibility and strength and endurance activities.” This may be the requirements, yet not all students stick to these guidelines in order to succeed.
There are 10 modules in the personal fitness course, each containing a range of 5-10 lessons. These lessons span from a quick multiple choice quiz, to a multi-page essay or project. “I definitely think that online gym is a lot harder. You have to write essays and make presentations which obviously you don’t have to do in school. Online is also content based and in school is effort based,” explained Kelsey Wiles (‘19).
Fitness logs and flexibility logs, due once per week on top of the course load are also required. This seems like a massive amount of work for only a half credit in gym, but there are some loopholes in this method.
Unlike a standard gym class, the teacher of an online course can’t physically watch you complete the required fitness and flexibility logs. There is also no way for a teacher to identify during activities, that you are even moving. Activities are given to a student based off of the information written in those logs, therefore if you were to say you weighed less than you do, or you were less flexible, then you would be given a lighter ‘fitness’ load. “We’ve had numerous students over the years tell us they flat out cheated and/or lied when they completed the online PE process. Point blank told us, [the students] made everything up,” explains ORHS physical education teacher, John Morin.
The idea of “online gym” is an odd concept to many. “[It] makes no sense that you can replicate a class of collaboration and physical activity in an online setting,” said Julianna Caldicott (‘19), questions the realisticness of taking a very hands-on class online.. One national standard from the Society of Health and Physical Educators, (www.shapeamerica.org), is, “The physically literate individual demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.” Yet how can you accurately track a child’s motor skills through the internet?
“My parents were not remotely supportive of my VLACS gym endeavor. They disagreed with the concept of online gym as a whole. I can’t blame them; It is a bit of an oxymoron,” said Anna Haight (‘19), who has mixed opinions about online gym. Along with the strange approach to teaching gym, the personal fitness course, also has an average timespan of 16-18 weeks to complete. “It took me fifteen months to take a semester class because I put it off in a big way and basically bullsh*t it all. The teacher didn’t seem to care much and it was just sort of a joke that I barely completed [VLACS PE] and only did it for the credit requirement,” explained Nate Moore (‘18).
Reasons for enrolling in personal fitness vary among students. Some need room in their schedule, others would rather not take the physical education class offered at ORHS. “We have all kinds of reasons students claim to need to take an online PE experience vs. other things, most of it is because they have conflicts in their schedule and we are an elective based school,” said Morin. One student, Charlie Haskell (‘19), explained, “I don’t regret [taking online gym] because it allowed me to fit more real classes in my schedule that benefit me in the long run.”
VLACS allows you to plan your own course schedule. Therefore you have the option of finishing the course in as little as 6-8 weeks. This can cause stress for many students who are not fully committed to the course, or are juggling multiple classes in school and online. “I️t was stressful to have it always lingering in the back of my mind. I’m not a procrastinator at all- I️ always do my school work and projects early because I️ don’t like doing things last minute, however this was really hard not to put off because there really wasn’t a big time limit,” said Caldicott.
If one goes without completing any assignments for a week, an email is received mentioning something along the lines of: “please contact me right away, since failure to submit work may lead to your losing access to the course until we speak.” Losing access to the course can result in a failure, which goes on your transcripts.
Prior to taking Personal Fitness, some students, including myself, had no knowledge of what an ORHS PE class was even like. Unfortunately, as a freshman, I had only heard horror stories and seen movies of what PE was actually like.“We also have some students who come with a vision of a PE experience, which is so far from what we provide and we are so hopeful that if we continue to convince more people that being a part of our program is much more enjoyable than avoiding it then I think those numbers can continue to drop,” said Morin.
ORHS gym class has a extremely large variety of P.E activities. I joined a class sophomore year. Shockingly, we went sledding and snowshoeing, along with badminton and other activities I actually enjoyed. Currently, the school’s P.E. class is trying a new approach to students: quarterly sports. Students are allowed to select a course by quarter, based on what they would want to do. The current P.E teachers are also looking to add a unicycling, a roller blading, and even a rock climbing unit in order to form a adventure-sports unit and to promote students to participate in P.E. “It is devastating to me that anyone would ever think that an online physical education experience would be even remotely close to as valuable as participating in person, in a participatory class,” said Morin. And in attempt to change that, the department as a whole is constantly coming up with innovative ideas to keep students participating.
Yet, there will probably continue to be a handful of students who do choose the VLACS option. Every student learns differently. According to Heather Machanoff, counseling director, “some students do really well with online learning, some students do really well with classroom based learning. I think technology is important to have integrated into learning, does that mean taking a whole class online? I don’t know. Does it mean having a unit online? Maybe. I think extended learning opportunities are looking at how to blend some of those things to meet students needs on all of those levels.”