Nora Pryor imagines squeaking sneakers on hardwood floors when she thinks of gym class. But her physical education is currently punctuated by chirping cardinals.
Nora, 15, laps Boulevard Park in Lake St. Louis several times a week, mixing speed walking and jogging on a hot summer morning to get her heart rate up, and occasionally glancing down at her Garmin fitness tracker.
“I’m at 137 right now, which is perfectly right in the middle of the zone I have to be in,” she said in puff. “So we’re getting up there.”
Nora is earning a physical education credit online over the summer, when she could do the activity and coursework on her schedule. In addition to seven hours of exercise a week, she must complete digital assignments about heart health and physiology.
High schools students are increasingly packing their schedules with honors courses and electives. That means something has to give in the school day. For others, doing gym on their own time is a way to avoid uncomfortable locker room situations or playing competitive sports with peers who are more athletic.
“There’s an obvious divide in the kids that are going to be successful in those areas versus those that are not,” she said. “And for me personally being artistic, I’m not one of those kids.”
The rising sophomore at Wentzville’s Timberland High School jumped at the opportunity to take gym online over the summer and not miss band or church camps. She’s among nearly 300 students taking P.E. online this summer through Fueled By Launch at school districts across the St. Louis region. It’s the first summer Launch has offered the course statewide; about 2,500 kids in all are taking the class.
“Students like that they can work out the way they want to. They can ride horses, they can swim,” said Nichole Lemmon, director of virtual programming for Launch.
Launch was founded by Springfield Public Schools in 2012 and went statewide in 2017. Online P.E. was the first class Launch developed, Lemmon said, for students with busy schedules, or in other cases, “truly the locker room is their worst nightmare for a variety of different reasons.”
“Online phys. ed. classes are one more way to deliver the class,” said Christopher Hersl, the vice president of programs and professional development at SHAPE America, a nonprofit that promotes quality physical education.
But Hersl cautions they should be about more than simply tracking steps.
“That would be like saying that I would be a great artist if I just sat down and drew 30 minutes a day; I wouldn’t be, and if you could see me drawing, you would know that,” he said.
Good online P.E. programs, he added, will involve feedback from instructors and interaction with peers.
As for Nora, she’s confident the course has developed a good exercise routine for after she has to return her fitness tracker to school.
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