Expert Advisory Panel 2 focuses on ties between physical education and student mental health



The Expert Advisory Panel 2 met on June 30 to discuss the role of physical education amidst the plans of school re-openings. Panel members emphasized the benefits of physical education on students mental health.

Members of Expert Advisory Panel 2: Support to Address the Whole Child Experience assembled virtually at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30 to brainstorm potential plans for the physical education (PE) department across the district.

Expert Advisory Panel 2 has focused on the student perspective since their formation in early June and has been trying to tackle the issues COVID-19 and remote learning have presented for the district. Many students have struggled with mental health issues prompted by remote learning and social isolation during quarantine, and the panel discussed the role of PE and how it will help improve student mental health.

Amanda Grindstaff, a PE teacher at the Pierce School, and Bryan Agurcia, a personal trainer and member of the Advisory Panel, presented a brief slideshow presentation regarding the essential connection between mental and physical health for students.

Grindstaff said how remote learning has affected major aspects of student life and their ability to function.

“Remote learning forces, and even encourages, students to sit in a constant position for hours at a time, and when this happens, their overall ability and motivation to perform academically diminishes,” Grindstaff said.

Grindstaff suggested that the panel should separate themselves into smaller groups for future meetings to prioritize goals and changes for grades within the PE department.

“There are going to be different elements and focuses we should prioritize for each grade level in PE, so having smaller discussions on our next steps for each grade would help the community,” Grindstaff said. “[This would help] educators and parents understand how the curriculum will change and act in the upcoming school year.”

Grindstaff said her department could ask for park permits and other outdoor spaces to allow students to engage in activities without teacher supervision and the ability to not wear masks in some situations with social distancing.

“For normal outdoor activities, I was thinking about how we could receive grants and permits from the town to use parks and other recreational facilities to host short PE sessions,” Grindstaff said. “This would be challenging just because of the organization and implementation, but having the opportunity to have outdoor activities would be beneficial to the students.”

Grindstaff said these activities could play a major role in the return to school.

“Already in some of the activities we do in the gym, many students have trouble breathing, so us asking them to wear masks for six hours or more is a big ask,” Grindstaff said. “Having outdoor spaces for play and educational activities would only come with social distancing, which is much easier on the body and breathing systems.”

Grindstaff concluded her topic discussion with how recess plays an important role in the social and academic development of students in younger grades.

“For the younger grades, recess is an essential part of their social and academic success because that is a space and time frame for them to do the things they love,” Grindstaff said. “In PE, we always emphasize how the curriculum does not coordinate with what the students want all the time, but with recess, they can do whatever they want outside.”

Following Grindstaff, Agurcia, who has over thirty years of experience in training and connecting PE to mental health, said that movement can be beneficial to students.

“Instead of having constant, draining exercise and physical activity, the point of my profession and passion is moving past sitting for hours on end and making that first, crucial step,” Agurcia said.

Agurcia said the lack of community and team bonding during remote learning has had a huge effect on dedicated student athletes.

“Many students who participated in sports teams and other athletics within the district have missed their seasons. Not having that sense of accomplishment and community involvement hurts them especially,” Agurcia said.

Associate Professor and Developmental Science Program Director for Boston University and Brookline resident Amanda Tarullo said students should utilize the resources of their wellness teachers in combination with the guidance counselors at their schools.

“I think the best scenario would be having some students coordinate with their wellness teachers and guidance counselors for any type of support. It is very important to connect the functionality and health of the brain to your body,” Tarullo said.

Director of Research Development for Northeastern University and Advisory Panel member Mariah Nobrega said the curriculum should implement more focus on nutrition and exercise because of the current situation.

“Throughout remote learning, many students have adapted to unhealthy lifestyles, so in our wellness classes and curriculums, we should have nutrition and exercise as our main priorities,” Nobrega said. “By not having these [categories] in good terms, your mental health deteriorates as well, so we should explain what has happened once school returns.”

To conclude the meeting and brainstorming session, Grindstaff presented an idea regarding how her department could keep students engaged and make the sessions easier for them through delivering necessary class materials to households.

“We do asynchronous learning, which is when we leave videos and suggestions for students to exercise, but another idea we could present to the school committee is leaving some items at each household and leading units about our curriculum virtually,” Grindstaff said.