MT. PLEASANT — For over 10 years, Iowa Wesleyan University has put on an annual field day for Henry County home-school children on a Friday in spring at Mapleleaf Athletic Complex, and although the event couldn’t go on as planned in 2020, the kids weren’t about to let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them from getting a workout.
Professor Valerie Unkrich, an Associate Professor of Pysical Education, Exercise Science and Wellness, was getting prepared for her last Iowa Wesleyan event before retirement when the Coronavirus pandemic began to disrupt activities from small workouts all the way to professional athletic events. It quickly became apparent that Unkrich would have to either cancel the event or call an audible.
On a normal year, home-school students would get to the track at Mapleleaf on a spring morning after Unkrich and IW students had set up equipment. The group always begins field day with a group prayer, where IW students, home-schooled students and parents gather around in a circle. After the prayer, the events get underway.
Among events at a normal home-school field day are obstacle courses, relays of carrying a tennis ball on a racket, and more. Unkrich particularly enjoys the running events on the track.
“I think the running portions of the field day were always the favorite,” Unkrich says. “We always have several heats of the 50-meter dash, the 100-meter dash, and the 200-meter dash, and the finale is the 400-meter Family Relay.”
The Family Relay includes the children’s parents along with the kids. They line up for a relay, accompanied by IW students, who fill in spots as needed, and have one big race around the track.
“Most of my students run and they are smiling the entire way,” Unkrich says.
Unkrich wasn’t satisfied with just canceling the event, especially since it was to be her last one. She devised a plan to let the children work out at home, and have fun doing it.
“I had been thinking about having a virtual field day, but was delayed due to the school year, and moving out of my office due to retirement,” Unkrich says. “I sent emails to the parents and home-school directors, Cara Bunnell and Lyne Haeffner to get the word out. I Was thrilled when parents responded and said they were ready to begin.”
Unkrich is a member of “OPEN Phys Ed,” a public service of U.S. Games. The organization offered 22 activities to choose from and Unkrich offered an additional 10. She wanted students to choose at least five activities, and says many students participated in more.
The virtual field day included events the children could compete in around the house. Among events were the “Backboard Bank It,” the “Coin Flip 400-meter Dash,” the “Fast Folder,” and the “Milk Jug Relay.” All the events could be done either in the house or outside, and kids could compete alongside brothers, sisters and parents.
Soon after sending out the at-home events, Unkrich began getting flooded with pictures and families. Families sent in clips of their children jumping rope, playing “Backboard Bank-It,” doing a “Push up Cupid Shuffle,” and more.
Unkrich then started traveling to student homes and meeting the families outdoors to award children their special purple ribbons. Children as young as three and as old as 18 earned ribbons. Among recipients were Mt. recent Mt. Pleasant graduates Kendall Dascher and Apryl Simon, both of which were members of Panther spring sports teams who had their 2020 season cut down due to the virus.
The home-school students who partake in the field day each years would also come almost every Friday at 10 a.m. to Unkrich’s Elementary Physical Education Methods class in the fall, and Adapted P.E. in the spring. She says the kids coming over creates a valuable experience for the IW students who take those classes.
“We love having the home-schooled students come to our class on Fridays,” Unkrich says. “Having the home-schoolers come offers my students wonderful teaching experiences.”
Unkrich says she was recently in contact with a former student who graduated eight years ago, and he still remembered the times he had with the kids who came to their class.
“He told me having the home-schoolers was a valuable teaching opportunity he enjoyed and learned from,” Unkrich says. “I think all IW students who taught the home-schoolers will say the same thing.”
Unkrich says the best outcomes of home-schooled education for her personally are getting to know the families and seeing the success and growth of the children.
There is no telling whether or not the COVID-19 situation will be under control enough to allow the event to go on as usual when 2021 rolls around, but the 2020 go-round will be a memorable one for the children involved, and for Unkrich, who says the virtual field day helped her continue to enjoy the event despite things not going on as originally planned.
“This has given me a bit of closure regarding the home-schooled P.E. and field day,” Unkrich says. “I hope the parents know and understand how their children help our IW students in more ways than one.”