Will shovel for grades

·4 min read

FORGET the gymnasium — driveways, sidewalks and parking lots are becoming popular alternatives for phys-ed students keen to both work out and volunteer to shovel snow in their communities this season.

With Manitoba public health officials promoting outdoor learning as much as possible to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 amid the pandemic, teachers are finding creative ways to keep students active outside no matter the season.

Tim Morison was clearing his driveway in Starbuck earlier this year, when he realized he was participating in a perfect phys-ed lesson.

Not only is shovelling an intense physical activity, he said, but also an opportunity to both learn how specific muscles work (in this case, biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings and calves, among others) and the importance of community involvement.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that we take care of the community; community comes first,” said Morison, who teaches phys-ed at Starbuck School in the Red River Valley School Division.

“And trying to teach these kids how… doing something for someone else can cheer them up — especially during this time, when everything’s so negative with COVID.”

Morison recruited his students to deliver flyers to houses and businesses around Starbuck (located 30 kilometres west of Winnipeg) to inform residents the school’s phys-ed students planned to help clear snow in town throughout the winter.

On such days, the phys-ed teacher said he plans to take each of his classes out to walk around with shovels to clear as many driveways as possible during the school day.

“Now, we’re just waiting for snow,” Morison said, adding the first significant snowfall of the season occurred during an in-service school day last week. He put out a request to families anyway and more than 10 students showed up to clear snow, even though they had the day off.

In the Manitoba capital, the phys-ed department at Maples Collegiate has a similar idea.

The Winnipeg high school put out a call to families asking if anyone within walking distance from the facility was interested in having students clear snow during school hours.

“We are hoping to help clear the snow of homes of seniors, those living with a disability/illness, or those that can use the extra help,” states the notice.

Less than 24 hours after it was sent, phys-ed teacher Matt Medwick said at least seven people had signed up for the volunteer service.

“This is just one more thing that might really help people feel better in general, on both ends,” Medwick said.

Maples teachers have been incorporating activities such as mindfulness and yoga to improve students’ mental health this term. Research shows learning in natural environments is beneficial to students’ stress levels, overall well-being, and helps them focus when they return to a classroom setting.

“When teachers conduct that kind of a lesson, they’ll see a major increase in interest and motivation, when kids are allowed to explore questions they have,” said Mike Link, assistant professor of education at the University of Winnipeg, who researches the link between outdoor education and student well-being.

Link said the pivot to outdoor lessons during the pandemic will likely affect how much time educators spend outside in the future, given they have now experienced first-hand the positives of teaching outdoors.

Starbuck principal Dale Fust said the school will continue to promote outdoor phys-ed in the future, given how successful Morison’s snow-shovelling idea and overall programming has been this fall.

Morison — who was booted from the school’s gymnasium when it was converted into two classrooms — has created a winter survival unit. He’s teaching students how to build a shelter, start a fire, boil water, and diagnose frostbite and hypothermia.

“We’re reaching the kids who don’t necessarily succeed in a traditional phys-ed environment — the traditional volleyball, sports kind of thing,” said Fust, who oversees the K-8 school of approximately 170.

The buy-in from kids has been phenomenal, Morison said. “I’m going to carry on with this for the rest of my career.”

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press