Students, professors adjust to gym classes in a pandemic

Across Calvin’s campus, professors and students alike have been adjusting to classroom environments where everyone stays in their own space, limiting movement to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, for classes built on the ideas of movement and recreation, these restrictions provide a difficult challenge. 

Calvin gym class sessions this semester are marked by the same social distancing practices that are present in all other spaces on campus. Students and professors are expected to wear masks when indoors and maintain at least six feet of distance between one another whenever possible. Calvin senior Elizabeth Memmelaar notes the change in her Wilderness Pursuits class, saying, “We’re trying to do as much class outside [as possible]. We were going to meet in a classroom this week just to meet with everyone, but we moved it to outside, and we’re all six feet apart, so that’s obviously different.”

In a world where government guidelines and health protocol change daily, teaching or attending a gym class means being prepared for any one of multiple scenarios on a given day. “I feel like I have two to three plans for every day right now, and it just depends on circumstances,” says Ryan Rooks, Campus Recreation Coordinator, about his Wilderness Pursuits class. 

The physical education department has developed a much stronger online presence as a result of the pandemic. Students taking gym classes remotely can expect to have access to video materials, record their daily workouts in activity logs, and connect with other online learners when working on group projects. 

According to professors, a more robust online curriculum has in turn strengthened the in-person class curriculum as well. After the shutdown of in-person classes last March, Rooks and fellow physical education professor Ryan Jensen developed a completely online version of their Wilderness Pursuits class and found that they wanted to add their favorite elements of the online class to the in-person class. “Last spring was a great opportunity to rethink the curriculum and rethink how we use technology and maybe become more in sync with how students want to learn,” says Rooks. 

Although Calvin faculty have been pleased with the way things have gone in the return to in-person classes, the relatively seamless transition doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise. “I don’t think it’s been as difficult as we expected. It’s what we do. This is our niche,” says Kerrie Berends, who teaches a Cardio Cross Training class and also serves as co-chair of Calvin’s Kinesiology department. 

“Since the day that students left last March… there’s been this horizontal and vertical collaboration between so many different groups on this campus that typically would not be working together to attempt to put something together so that we can have students back,” adds Rooks. 

Whether it means students are participating in tennis classes at the Strikwerda Outdoor Tennis Center, jogging at the outdoor track, or lining the sidewalk with stationary bikes outside of the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex, physical education classes are adjusting to a semester unlike any other.