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Bellmore-Merrick students stay active with physical education app

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As remote learning has be-come the norm for Bellmore-Merrick students in recent weeks, one question that came up was how to continue gym instruction away from school. The Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District’s answer: Make an app that brings the gym to students’ homes.

The phys. ed. staff, led by Director Eric Caballero, opened access to the app on March 26. With grade level tabs that break up age-appropriate physical activities, students can document their completion of assignments on a linked form.

“While most other teachers are using Google Classroom, we’re thinking about how to provide an opportunity in physical education,” Caballero said. “It’s a different beast altogether.”

The app, which was designed from scratch as a webpage, compiles videos and structured activities from around the internet for students to follow. Communication with phys. ed. teachers remains active as well, as they assign roughly two submissions for students per week.

“The goal is not to inundate them with too much,” Caballero said. “The primary focus is making the transition as smooth as possible.”

Early feedback on the app was positive. The morning after its release, Caballero reported that nearly 280 logs had been made.

“Kids get bored — we have to push through to get them to stay active,” said Craig Papach, a phys. ed. teacher and the athletic coordinator at John F. Kennedy High School. “The thing I miss the most is the daily interaction with kids. It’s tough to lose that component.”

Papach prefers to “keep it fun and light” by making activities entertaining. Students looking to bike or run can find a lesson to suit their needs, while others can stay physical in their bedrooms with activities like yoga.

Beyond the coronavirus pandemic that is keeping schools closed, the app has longevity, too. In phys. ed. classes, it can act as a “central location for information,” said Brian DeGaetano, a Kennedy phys. ed. teacher. Informative fitness articles and videos can be shared, and students out with an injury can use it to supplement instruction.

“There’s lots of possibilities,” DeGaetano said. “It’s even motivated me, too — I’ve been logging my workouts and sending them to the kids.”

Papach’s own promotion of physical wellness goes beyond the new Bellmore-Merrick app. His Instagram account, @papach_phys_ed, has daily posts showing Papach completing workouts in his home gym in his garage. The videos often garner hundreds of views.

There have been several guest appearances in the garage, including Caballero and science teacher Russell Lella, a physics teacher. Throughout the motivational clips, Papach also touts his motto: “Lift weights, read books.”

“At Kennedy, our faculty is awesome,” he said. “They want to connect to the kids any way possible.”

Meanwhile, Papach, who coaches lacrosse, longs for a return to normalcy. “I would do anything to go back to a lacrosse practice,” he said.