The world is watching and sweating along with the students in Father Lopez virtual gym class
By ROGER MOONEY
It’s 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, Larissa Maloney, standing on a mat in the corner of her garage, presses the record button on her phone and what might be the largest physical education class in the world is under way.
Beginning with a simple warmup exercise – butt kicks – Maloney leads her virtual students that sometimes number in the thousands through a 30-minute workout. Depending on the day, the class includes burpees, heel touches, kick boxing, basketball jump shots, volleyball overhand smashes and digs, and yes, even swimming.
Maloney is physical education teacher at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. Many of the students attend the private school on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship managed by Step Up For Students. She began the virtual class in late March after schools in Florida were closed because of COVID-19.
Maloney named the class Active Kids 2.0 and started a YouTube channel so her students could participate.
Yet, four weeks later, Active Kids 2.0 has nearly 1,500 subscribers on YouTube. Some days, a session receives as many as 6,000 clicks.
“It’s just blown up,” Maloney said. “I just thought originally it was going to be for my students, then I had a friend ask if her students could do it too. I said, ‘Of course. Why not?’”
The success of the virtual gym class does not surprise Father Lopez Principal Leigh Svajko. Maloney changes the workouts daily to keep them fresh and goes through the workouts herself, keeping the class as close to real for her students as can be excepted during the pandemic.
“I think her willingness to get out there to be live every day, especially with our students that she interacts with, just shows her level of investment to them,” Svajko said. “It’s how plugged in she is to it.”
Like every teacher in the state, Maloney needed a way to continue teaching her 75 students. But how do you teach PE without the use of a gym or athletic fields?
“This whole distance learning thing, there was no preparation for teachers,” Maloney said. “I know a lot of teachers didn’t have a lesson plan in their back pocket, especially for physical education.”
She began by writing daily lesson plans – run a mile on Monday, push-ups and sit-ups on Tuesday, arms and abdominal exercises on Wednesday and so on. Her plan was to send them to her students each day and have them reply with what they did and how long it took to complete.
“After I wrote that, I said, ‘How boring.’ I’m boring myself just sitting here reading it,” Maloney said. “I have 14- through 18-year-olds. That’s not going to cut it. I said, ‘You know what? They’re used to seeing me every day, so let’s press record and do it like they’re used to seeing me do it in class.’ Have them see me, see me doing it, see me enjoying it and have them follow along and they can enjoy it, not only by themselves but with their families, as well.”
Father Lopez students are used to seeing Maloney in action. She was a three-sport athlete in high school who earned a volleyball scholarship to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. After that, she spent five years on the professional beach volleyball circuit. She now coaches the girls’ varsity volleyball team at Father Lopez.
Maloney participates in her PE classes along with her students, whether it’s learning a new sport or completing the stations of circuit training – jumping rope, abdominal station, core station and free weights.
“I knew I wanted to do something to bring that excitement, that intensity and fire within my videos, so they still know I’m still with them,” she said. “I think it’s important for the students to know that I’m doing it with them, I’m working with them and I’m cheering them on. They know that I’m their biggest fan. So, these videos are probably no surprise to my kids.”
Judging by the feedback left on Maloney’s Facebook page by her students, Active Kids 2.0 is as successful as a class held in Father Lopez’s gym.
- “I’m so surprised by how good the online workouts are!”
- “The online workouts are great especially since I’m stuck at home all day. It’s a motivational way to get me going in the morning!”
- “Seeing my coach like I normally would on a school day feels like she’s there with me!”
- “I try to push as hard as I can because she knows we can complete these workouts and that’s the incentive for me to do my best.”
- “I love doing these workouts! I really miss seeing everyone, but these are the next best thing.”
What is a surprise to Maloney is how popular her videos have become. She draws viewers from across the United States, Canada, England, Australia and Africa.
Father Lopez Assistant Principal Marie Gallo-Lethcoe said the Coach Maloney those who tune in around the world see every morning is the same Coach Maloney those at the school see every day.
“They’re getting the real deal,” she said.
Before beginning, Maloney posted her idea for the videos, which run Monday through Friday, on several forums for PE teachers.
“This is amazing! Can I use it.”
“This is awesome. I would love to use it.”
Maloney replied to each, “Absolutely! Use it.”
The first video was recorded on the final Monday in March. It drew 100 clicks. The video recorded the following day drew 500 clicks. That quickly jumped to 1,000 the next day and climbed to 6,000 by the end of the week.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s something here,’” Maloney said.
The increase can be attributed to the stay at home orders in most states during this pandemic. Maloney knows a lot of her students are joined by brothers and sisters and parents. She has heard from viewers across North America who complete the sessions during family time, something that can take place at any time of the day since they are recorded.
“Four weeks ago, thinking I would bring families closer together was not even on my radar,” she said.
Maloney said before it was announced that schools in Florida will not reopen this school year that she does not plan on ending Active Kids 2.0.
“I’ve gotten so much – and it’s weird to say this – but fan mail, and I’ve gotten so many families on board and so much love from the videos that people have committed to doing them every day, so I will keep doing them until I don’t have any viewers,” Maloney said. “I’ll do them as long as I can.”
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.