Three Cheers for Chapin P.E.

 Chapin P.E. teachers at Homecoming 2019. 

Chapin’s physical education/athletics team spent the summer immersed in professional development work which focused on dismantling racism and virtual learning through a Phys Ed-specific lens.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference:

“We had the desire to create something because nothing existed specifically for P.E.,” explained Lower School P.E. teacher Nick DePaola.

Michelle Caywood, Director of Athletics, continued, “[We began by] looking at how to put things into our curriculum. A lot is geared towards classrooms, but what about gymnasiums and fields? Our team worked to create a program relevant to our work.”

Thus, the NYSAIS symposium “Building an Anti-Racist Physical Education Program” was born. Co-created by Jane Anne Randolph, Alex Holowach, Nick DePoala (P.E. teachers) and Erica Corbin, Director of Community Life and Diversity, this virtual symposium created a designated space for PreK-Class 12 physical educators to develop a P.E. program with an anti-racism lens. It provided an opportunity to discuss ways to create a more equitable environment for students through tandem physical education and DEI work, and how that thread reaches all age groups and enhances learning.

The day-long conference – joined by 247 participants from several schools – included four workshops with an over-arching theme of racial identity and offering supportive resources. Attendees worked together to develop understanding for, growth in and implementation of anti-racism work in physical education.
Workshops included:

1. Supporting K-8 Learners Through a DEI/Anti-Racism Lens in the PE Space (With Dr. Worokya Duncan, Director of Equity and Engagement & Head of Upper School at The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine)

2. Supporting Gr. 8-12 Learners Through a DEI/Anti-Racism Lens in the PE Space (With Lauren Stewart, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at The Browning School)

3. Creating an Effective Online Wellness Program for a Diverse Community (With James Samuels, P.E. teacher, basketball coach at Village Community School and Mindfulness Coach)

4. Disrupting White Cultural Ideas in Physical Education (With John Gentile, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at The Calhoun School)

Action steps and Closing (With Erica Corbin)

In addition to this panel of experts, there was a special keynote speaker, Sheri Spelic, who has taught elementary Physical Education at the American International School Vienna, Austria since 1996. She has an MA in Sport Psychology and an MEd in Independent School Leadership and is the founder of the online publication Identity, Education and Power, which invites educator commentary on the intersections of those three themes.

Throughout her speech, she underscored the importance of practicing and letting go of perfection. Sheri noted, “Deliberate in the process, which I expect and hope will be a long one.” Her entire speech can be found here. Jane Anne Randolph shared, “One silver lining of the pandemic was that we were able to have Sheri joining in from Vienna. That was an opportunity we wouldn’t normally have.”

Distance-Learning Conference:

The AAIS conference “Teaching P.E. in the Age of COVID,” was yet another virtual symposium spearheaded by Chapin’s Phys Ed/Athletics team; including included Ms. Caywood, Mr. DePaola and Mike Davis, Head of Upper School Physical Education. Additionally, Sacred Heart’s Head of P.E., Colin Hope, and Spence’s Head of P.E., Mildred Piscopo, helped to create and host the conference.

“It grew exponentially,” noted Mr. DePoala once non-AAIS schools began to receive the invitation to attend. The two-day conference was comprised of presentations and break-out room sessions based on the age of students. Day one focused on PreK-Class 4 while day two was reserved for Classes 5-12. While in break-out rooms, participants were able to share ideas, insight and plans for hybrid-learning programs.

“We all have challenges,” Ms. Caywood shared. “It’s great to have a space to ask: ‘How are you managing this aspect?’ ‘What worked, what didn’t?’ How did fitness play a role?’” She explained that what resulted was an ongoing, living document with helpful tips that will foster a continuous, collaborative relationship between schools.

“It was nice to come together with no travel restraints. Anyone who wanted to join was able to,” Ms. Randolph noted. She continued by sharing how motivating it was to meet with peers and colleagues and discuss the possibilities and options they have. “We created a community that I hope stays connected,” Ms. Caywood remarked.

Every member of Chapin’s P.E. department participated in both conferences. When asked about the accomplishment of developing these two engaging sessions, the P.E. group agreed, “Erica [Corbin] gets all the praise!” Each noted how helpful it was to be able to meet weekly with her to collaborate and prepare for the DEI conference. Ms. Caywood also shared their appreciation for the full support they received from the Division Heads, which made the initiative even stronger. “It was a big success.”

Although no small feat, Chapin’s P.E./Athletic team looks forward to continuing this imperative work throughout the school year and for years to come. In addition to these efforts, individually, all P.E. teachers read a number of articles and/or participated in other PD workshops. “We have a lot of experts right here,” Ms. Caywood said, giving her team some well-deserved praise. “People left [these conferences] wanting more.”