LSMSA gets digital to keep students engaged with physical fitness

Upon its announcement to hold virtual classes for the Fall semester, faculty at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts (LSMSA) knew things would be different.
While teachers transitioned to online classrooms, Athletics and Recreation

Coordinator Coach Dale Clingerman said, “Let’s get digital,” and immediately started brainstorming what team sports and physical fitness would look like.

“When we moved to virtual learning, we knew that the biggest issue would be the missing community,” said Volunteer Coach Randy Key. “LSMSA has always emphasized the ‘Living Learning Community.’ Coach Dale has always offered students a place for community in athletics.”

It was especially important that the sports teams didn’t lose their bonds while away from campus. So with the help of some faculty members that are also volunteer coaches, they developed a way to keep the students connected.

The other coaches include: Michael Sumner, assistant director of enrollment services; Dr. Christina Hillesheim, associate lecturer of Chemistry; Emily Duet, student life advisor; Randy Key, associate lecturer of Mathematics; and Dr. Jason Anderson; Lecturer of Biology.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to connect with the faculty and students,” said Dr. Hillesheim. “Teaching online has caused me to be isolated more than usual and this has really helped me both mentally and physically.”

Weekly team meetings were held where students could talk about sports with their coaches, the coaches could provide them with demonstrations and in general, check on the overall well being of their student athletes. Drills and fitness goals are assigned each week to keep everyone in shape.

This plan soon expanded. “We wanted to open it up to all students,” Clingerman explained.

“I’m really grateful that we’re able to do these athletic workouts and meetings because a lot of our students are so unbelievably professional in the classroom, and the gym is where they get to just let loose and have some fun,” Sumner added. “I think it’s important they have opportunities to connect with each other in a less serious environment, and form deeper friendships than they might in a classroom setting.”

Each week Clingerman sends out a schedule of Zoom workouts to students and faculty. Through a free Nike Training Club app, fitness instructors lead exercise programs from cardio to yoga. Students can download the app if they’re unable to attend the Zoom sessions and do the workouts on their own time.

Some students have jobs, are helping to take care of siblings, and have other challenges they’re dealing with right now.

“It’s been therapeutic,” said Dr. Anderson. “These virtual workouts relieve stress. It doesn’t hurt that I get to see my kids, even though it’s through a computer screen. This experience shows them we’re willing to adapt to meet them where they are.”

Besides the physical fitness aspect, the Zoom sessions give students a chance to socialize. Faculty members attend the sessions in person, so they visit with their students before and after the workout. They sometimes share a word or quote of the day, or share what they’re thankful for.

“When they’re here at school, LSMSA is their home,” said Clingerman. “Through this experience I’ve gained a better respect for what our students are going through during this virtual semester.”

Key feels very similarly to Clingerman. “Volunteering in the gym and on the fields has given me the opportunity to know the students in a different environment from the classroom and that’s the most rewarding aspect of being at LSMSA,” he said.