Over the course of her career as an educator and administrator, Debbie Tampoya has noticed physical education classes having a paralyzing effect on some students.
Some are intimidated by the thought of learning skills and sports they’re unfamiliar with, especially in front of peers. Some simply don’t click with the teacher.
But for the past 10 years, four as principal at Morgantown’s Cass Elementary School and six years as principal at Mylan Park Elementary, Tampoya has had no such issues. And for that, she credits West Virginia University’s College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences.
These important life lessons and skills learned in PE translate into the classroom, playground, children’s homes, and our community.”
A grant from the Monongalia County School Board that stretches back to the 1990s has allowed undergraduate and graduate students in CPASS’ Physical Education Teacher Education program to help even Mylan Park’s most reluctant students embrace physical education and the benefits of daily activity. What’s more, through their work, they’ve helped transform WVU’s PETE program into a national model for training PE teachers.
“They really have it down to a science, it’s very engaging,” Tampoya said of CPASS. “Believe it or not, when I started as a principal, I had kids who didn’t want to go to phys ed. Now, everybody enjoys it. The way (the WVU students) introduce the skills, it’s just a lot of fun.”
The grant supports three CPASS graduate students, each a licensed, certified PE teacher, to teach at Mylan Park each year. But that only scratches the surface of the support and enrichment the students receive.
A recent day at Mylan’s gym served as ample proof of CPASS’ commitment to student learning while maintaining a fun-for-all approach. Eager third-graders were divided into two groups, each taught by a CPASS undergraduate student and assisted by another CPASS undergrad. On the sidelines were more CPASS students observing each group. Some were undergrads, watching the way their colleagues taught and absorbing as much as they could before it was their turn to teach a class. Others were graduate students who monitor and evaluate the undergrads’ teaching skills.
“We complete an evaluation form that gives them feedback on the areas that were positive and the areas that need to be worked on,” Phil Liversedge, a doctoral student from Darlington, England said. “Surprisingly, these 12 children in front of (the teacher) can seem a little bit scary at first. But once they get going, everyone becomes comfortable.”
The unit this particular week was throwing and catching and the CPASS teachers introduced learning tasks and built on the children’s skills as the class progressed. The students each had a curved, scoop-like plastic racquet and a ball. They started by familiarizing themselves with the equipment by tossing balls up in the air and catching them with the racquets. Next, the teachers showed them how to use the racquets to hurl the balls at large targets on the wall. The students eventually began to practice throwing at various targets and from different distances. With everyone comfortable, the kids were partnered off and tossed the ball back and forth to a classmate.
The class ended without the students engaging in any sort of competition but that’s precisely the point.
“Physical education definitely has progressed from since I was in school,” said Melissa Baus, a CPASS master’s student from Clark, N.J., who teaches two classes a day at Mylan. “Usually, the teachers just rolled out the ball and said, ‘Here, play a game of soccer, play a game of basketball.’ Now, as a physical educator we’re actually teaching the skills so the kids become confident and competent in the skills before we actually introduce the game to them.”
CPASS’ methodology is based on the Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids curriculum, or SPARK, a research-based, internationally recognized PE curriculum developed at San Diego State University in the late 1980s that promotes health-related fitness and physical activity. The SPARK curriculum is built around national physical education standards and also aligns with state standards. SPARK focuses on skill-building, physical activity and inclusion, allowing teachers to build upon and modify lesson plans to best suit the needs and interests of their learners.
“Basically, everything is set up for you but it can be modified to use for beginning kindergartners to high level fifth graders,” Baus said.
But having an effective curriculum is only part of the appeal of the CPASS students. Their youth and enthusiasm makes them more relatable to the children and their success at WVU makes them role models, Tampoya says.
“In most schools, you typically interact with one PE teacher. Here, they get to interact with three teachers plus they’re all young men and women who are in college who have set great goals for themselves and are going through higher education,” Tampoya said. “We just want them associated with people like that in their lives.”
The WVU students also engage with the children at recess and are involved in special activities at the school throughout the year.
And it’s not all fun and games. The WVU teachers’ incorporate a health-related “concept of the day” that focuses on a wide range of topics including the benefits of physical fitness, wellbeing, healthy decision-making, and personal and social responsibility.
“These important life lessons and skills learned in PE translate into the classroom, playground, children’s homes, and our community,” Dr. Emily Jones, PETE coordinator and CPASS assistant professor, said.
The Mylan Park students appreciate the CPASS approach.
“I like learning all the different skills I need for all the different sports,” fifth-grader Quinn Golden said. “For basketball, I like learning how to dribble and shoot layups.
But there’s a downside to units that feature sports he’s not involved with, he admitted: “I’m a little bit jealous that there’s other sports that I’m not playing.”
The teachers’ personalities have also made an impression.
“They’re trying to be friends with you, not just your teacher,” fifth-grader Shelby Floyd said.
Added fifth-grader Logan Raber, “They interact with us and if we make a mistake they show us. Then we try to do our best to get it right and then we move on. We keep making progress.”
The educational experience doesn’t end with the school children.
Unlike PE teacher training at most institutions, where field experience and hands-on teaching does not occur until late in the undergrad experience, WVU students get to work with students in teaching/learning environments early and often throughout their program. They’re quickly introduced to the SPARK curriculum, instructional methods and strategies to assess student learning and begin teaching or observing PE classes during their first and second semesters in the PETE program.
“I think what sets WVU’s undergrad program apart from other schools is that you’re immersed right away,” Baus said. “You’re out there, you have your own class in a public school setting and you get real world experience right away.”
Or, as Mike McKenzie, a junior from Elkins put it, “You learn pretty quickly if you like teaching or not.”
Behind the scenes, the WVU students rely on support from Jones to help them develop into top teachers and sought-after graduates.
Jones reviews the students’ teaching evaluations and meets with them regularly to set a path for improvement. Part of their growth also includes professional development opportunities geared toward PE and specific issues they may encounter in their classes.
In recent years, Jones has noticed other institutions initiating programs similar to CPASS’ PETE.
“Our partnership with Mylan is relatively unique,” Jones said. “While it has developed over the years, the underlying notion remains the same – we are committed to delivering quality, standards-based PE that focuses on student learning, health and well-being and the development of skillful movers who participate in sport and physical activity outside of the school day. Through the partnership, the University has an opportunity to give back to the community and train teachers using quality innovative teaching practices that will serve to benefit the children of West Virginia.”
By Dan Shrensky
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.
CONTACT: Kimberly Cameon; CPASS