Mehlville students embrace adventure in new P.E. class

ST. LOUIS COUNTY — After a year with a lot of virtual learning from home, students and teachers in the Mehlville School District are thrilled to take their studies outside.

A new elective physical education class at Mehlville and Oakville high schools introduces students to kayaking, fishing, hiking, archery, camping and rock climbing.

“If I could do this class all day, I would,” said sophomore Carlos Mueller, 15.

The one-semester course — titled “adventure and outdoor pursuits” — was first offered last year. But with a ban on field trips, the class didn’t live up to its name.

This year, the pandemic precautions are somewhat less strict. On Tuesday, students in the class practiced kayaking in the school’s pool. In a few weeks, they’ll tackle the Mississippi River.

“My poor group last year didn’t get to do this,” said P.E. teacher Jill Wojewuczki, who has taught at Mehlville High for 15 years.

Missouri law requires only two semesters of physical education to graduate from high school. Wojewuczki said she hopes offering a variety of courses will encourage students to take more P.E. electives.

“It’s so much fun to get out of the classroom; and all of these activities they can do for a lifetime,” she said.

School leaders are embracing outdoor learning for its added benefits during the pandemic. It’s easier to space out, and COVID-19 doesn’t transmit as easily in the open air. As a bonus, most districts don’t require students and staff to wear masks outside.

Wohlwend Elementary in the Mehlville district received a $15,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation to develop outdoor classrooms and labs. Other districts are using federal pandemic relief money to spruce up their outdoor facilities.

The Missouri Whitewater Association provided kayaks for the Mehlville students to use, many of them for the first time.

Students can earn their fishing and hunting licenses through the course, which also includes one-day field trips to fish, bike and hike.

“When I was growing up, we had core sports and that was it,” said Mark Hromnak, the Mehlville pool manager and aquatics coach.

The P.E. classes haven’t used the high school’s pool before this year, Hromnak said.

With a block schedule and 90-minute classes, students have time to change clothes and still have an hour in the water.

“I don’t like regular gym. I didn’t want to run,” said senior Kila Ferguson, 17. “Why not get in the pool and learn how to build a campfire?”

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