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When IACS high schoolers showed up to school in the fall of 2015, their schedule had a brand new element in it: physical education.
Although Innovation has no traditional gymnasium, Principal Erik Arnold worked with new teacher Kyle Thornton, who comes to IACS with 6 years of experience teaching middle school PE in Laconia and a Masters in Adventure Education, and veteran Donna Harrington, who has taught everything from Robotics to Yoga at IACS previously. Their goal was not only to get kids active, but to help build community and expose students to the kinds of physical activities that can become life-long habits.
“Being outside in nature helps combat stress. It’s not only about finding physical activity, but also ways to cope: time in nature, meditation, tuning into your body, knowing how to keep yourself healthy.” Donna Harrington
In place of a traditional gymnasium, high schoolers at Innovation take advantage of the school’s ample outdoor space, using it for activities such as yoga, frisbee, cross-country skiing and mountain biking.
“We do something new every time,” explained Alyssa George ’15. “It’s not necessarily just sports.”
Harrington explained that getting outside has big benefits for students. “Kids using bodies in three dimensions is something they don’t get enough time for. It’s why they get jittery.”
According to Harrington, getting kids outside during gym can do a great deal to combat not just the jitters, but also the stresses of being a teenager.
“Being outside in nature helps combat stress,” she explained. “It’s not only about finding physical activity, but also ways to cope — time in nature, meditation, tuning into your body, knowing how to keep yourself healthy.”
This fall, the facilities team finished constructing a low ropes for the students to use in team-building activities. On the course, students will do everything from climbing a rock wall to traversing cables suspended between trees to helping work to move each member of an advisory through a tire suspended in mid-air.
“The students think they’re connected already with their cell phones,” explained Harrington, but the activities they do on the low ropes course, “allow them to truly connect with each other.”
With the emphasis on team-building, gym class serves not just to get kids active, but also to support the school’s focus on holistic education, supporting students social and emotional growth. As Senior Ryan Bourassa explained, gym class provides, “a different way to interact with your friends. It’s a way to connect.”
The effect of being active and connecting with peers is ultimately to help students relax and enjoy their day at school more thorouhgly. As Senior Luna Crowley noted, “It’s fun and we’re active. It definitely helps me relax during the day.”
Activity for All
“We’re looking for activities that are not intimidating for anyone,” explained Donna Harrington, when describing how she and Thornton create the curriculum. By using group-based activities which invite a range of levels of participation, students who traditionally would not like gym are able to get involved in class.
Just a week into class, on the walk back into the building, a student confided in Thornton that, “I’ve hated PE my whole life, so when I heard we were doing this, I was really scared, but this class is actually a lot of fun.” That sense of enjoyment is a big part of what motivates Thornton to teach PE and what he came to IACS to create.
As Thornton explained, “the more activities we can do, the more opportunities we give them, the better chance we have of each student finding something they can enjoy and maintain throughout their lives.”