South Orangetown Central School District

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From Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Rudy Arietta

In this edition of Leading and Learning, we are taking a look at our Physical Education program. All students are required to participate in Physical Education each year of their time in a New York State public school. While Physical Education can look very different in each building, there are themes that are essential components of our program from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

“The department works everyday to create an environment that ensures that students are learning various ways to be active while leading a healthy lifestyle and having fun,” says Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics Bill Pilla.

K-2 students giving high-five in PE class

When our youngest learners enter William O. Schaefer Elementary School, they are introduced to our Physical Education program by teachers Chris Counihan, Tom Dehler and Christy Steingasser. The team has multiple developmentally-appropriate goals when working with their students throughout the year. Promoting physical fitness, developing motor skills, and fostering teamwork and cooperation in a safe, inclusive environment while helping students develop their leadership, self-confidence, and self-esteem are at the forefront of those goals. The students work to achieve these goals in various ways. For example, the jump rope unit helps students develop their cardiovascular fitness, agility, and coordination in a fun environment. Teachers create unique activities, such as Hula Hoop Houses, that give students opportunities to develop these important skills. Finally, as with all the schools, the PE teachers at WOS help students develop healthy habits while also engaging their students’ families. The Community Health Walk and Field Day are great examples of that work.

PE class at elementary school

At Cottage Lane Elementary School, teachers Tom Dehler (who serves both elementaries), Jon Jacobs, and Sue O’Rourke build on the skills and habits developed at WOS. At CLE, activities and lessons are designed to help students take more responsibility for those healthy habits while improving their fitness levels. The physical fitness unit at CLE is a great way for students to set goals and work towards those goals. Students are given feedback from their teachers on their progress towards those goals. Additionally, the teachers also embed the themes of cooperation and teamwork into all units. Games and activities are chosen intentionally to give students opportunities to practice these skills while simultaneously developing their self-confidence, coordination and motor skills. Collaborative, problem-solving activities such as Happy Hand Shakes, the Playground Scavenger Hunt and Meteor Ball are popular with both teachers and students.

As students make their way to SOMS, they discover a continued focus on many of the same themes of teamwork, collaboration, sportsmanship and self confidence.

“Through a variety of challenging age-appropriate activities, the program aspires to provide a safe environment in which all students can learn and grow through physical activity and movement. Our staff teach movement skills, aquatics, personal safety, lifetime sports, team games, project adventure activities and fitness,” says SOMS Team Leader Chris Rastelli.

PE teacher demoing skillRastelli, along with teachers George Gaine, Kathleen Leuzzi, Joe Napoli and Steve Sutton, have the SOMS pool as a teaching space in addition to the usual gym and outdoor spaces. Students not only receive exposure to lifelong sports like swimming and canoeing but also receive important water safety instruction. Looking ahead, the SOMS PE faculty has identified mindfulness, yoga and the mental aspect of physical fitness as areas they would like to give more students opportunities to explore.

Lifelong fitness is a key theme of the physical education program at Tappan Zee High School and one that teachers build upon as students prepare to graduate.

Athletics Training teacher demonstrating proper taping technique

“The main goal of PE at TZHS is to teach students lifetime sports and activities that they can do outside of school or when they graduate. Within each activity, we stress the importance of sportsmanship and effective communication with teammates and opponents,” says TZHS Team Leader Tom Cromer. Among these activities are physical fitness, yoga, badminton and the increasingly popular pickleball. In addition, the department introduced a new Athletic Training elective last year which gives students background in the growing field of sports medicine. Taught by Physical Education teacher and former athletic trainer Emily Donovan, the hands-on course provides students with a peek into this field and is an example of the high school’s efforts to provide students with career exploration opportunities. Cromer, Donovan, Gaine and Sutton are considering introducing other electives in the future.

Physical education is an essential part of our district’s focus on developing the whole child. Whether it is the character development that is essential to all four buildings’ goals or the focus on developing lifelong habits and mindsets, the Physical Education department in South Orangetown plays a critical role in that work.