MOON LAKE — Like so many elementary school teachers, Tricia Hein worried about how she would manage the state's latest mandate on physical education when classes resumed in August.
"My concerns were just having enough time in the day to get it all in and get all the academics they need," said Hein, a kindergarten teacher at Moon Lake Elementary.
The new rules mandated that not only would elementary students get 150 minutes of weekly PE, but each block of exercise would run no less than 30 minutes. For most schools, that realistically meant classroom teachers — who haven't been trained to teach PE — would shoulder a large chunk of the responsibility.
Hein was one of many who wondered what, exactly, she would do with the kids, what she would have to sacrifice, and where she would do it at a school where space comes at a premium.
It's such a big potential demand that the United School Employees of Pasco has pushed to negotiate contract terms for how to implement the requirement. District officials have begged off so far, saying they want to give individual schools the chance to try first.
Moon Lake offers one potential solution that all key players, including teachers, administrators and students, appear to enjoy.
The school calls it PET (that's PE by the Teacher), and it's a simple, single lesson plan that everyone follows. It requires little in the way of supplies or additional space, and it doesn't force educators to come up with something new to bring to their students each time.
For the first quarter, everyone walks around the quarter-mile bus loop for 30 minutes twice a week. They get a regular PE class the other three days.
For the next quarter, they're looking at a fitness trail. After that, team competitions.
The teachers came up with the idea, and physical education department chairman Doug Anderson helped implement it.
"Initially, people were like, 'Oh my gosh. This is another thing I have to do,' " assistant principal Iveta Maska said. "Once we said it shouldn't be in isolation, let's look at it as a collective, and we gave them input, I haven't heard a complaint."
One recent afternoon, Hein's kindergarten students were out walking with their buddies, fifth graders in Kim Hein's class. The two teachers are sisters, and they like to share projects like this one.
Jared Baker, 10, played "I Spy" with 5-year-old Sarah Sharp to pass the time. A few girls skipped. Some children talked about how hot it was. Others chugged from their water bottles.
"A truck is coming!" kindergartener Molly Daniel shouted out as a delivery truck approached. All the students jumped onto the grassy area beside the loop to let the truck pass by. Then they returned to their walking.
"I like this better than PE," said Jonathan Perez, 11. "I like my little buddy."
Cecil Eval, Jonathan's kindergarten pal, smiled.
"I like spending time with Jonathan," Cecil replied.
Some students in other classes, who don't have buddies, said they preferred regular physical education classes better because they could play more games and run rather than walk. But others said they enjoy any type of exercise they get, and they turned the walking into a challenge for themselves.
"It keeps your body energized," said fifth-grader Brendan Boniol, 10. "We make it a little goal to overlap everyone at least once."
"It's just fun coming out here and racing," added Matthew Shoun, also 10.
Second-grade teacher Holly Heywood said the added physical education requirement gives her a chance to talk with her students in a nonclassroom environment. She usually picks a different partner each time, and said she likes getting to know more about them as they walk together.
"Once you put it in the schedule, it's pretty routine," Heywood said. "The kids expect it."
Tricia Hein said she still wishes she could have her hour of classroom instruction back — not to mention the unstructured play time that disappeared with the new state mandate. But she makes the best of it, she said, giving her students lessons related to the walking to ensure the time is well-spent intellectually as well as athletically.
After all, she acknowledged, "It is a good thing. The kids need to get exercise."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.