Sports teacher and school kids using digital tablet in basketball court at school gym

At the height of the digital age, many believed technology would impede movement. Computers supported a more sedentary lifestyle in the workplace, and ridesharing apps dramatically improved the convenience of transportation, thus decreasing the need to walk reasonable distances.

But as technology further evolves, so too does its influence on encouraging healthy lifestyles, such as the case of smartwatches and activity trackers. Now, Seneca Valley Academy of Choice in Pennsylvania, is at the forefront of the next revolution in technology education when it comes to encouraging healthy lifestyles for students. While online education courses are nothing new, the concept of cyber physical education is a foreign concept for many.

“Seneca Valley does a very nice job of promoting the health and wellness of lifetime activities for each student, and it’s reminding students and teaching students the importance of living a healthy lifestyle,” says James Pyle, a teacher for both cyber and traditional physical education at the academy. “As long as students can identify at least one or two activities they really enjoy that they may want to carry on the rest of their lives, then that’s really what we’re looking at and that’s one thing that cyber does. It might get that person to get into tennis outside of school and they carry that on or go to the YMCA. If we can get them to where they want to be with being physically active, then it benefits everybody.”

Having started the Seneca Valley cyber program in 2007, the initiative now serves more than 1,000 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade as an alternative to enhance their educational experience. Students can join the education programs part-time, full-time or combine both traditional education with cyber education in their curriculum.

“I think the inspiration was trying to provide choice, flexibility and opportunity for students so that they didn’t have to look at other schools so that all students had the opportunity within Seneca Valley to meet their individual needs,” says Principal Denise Manganello.

There are now cyber labs open in every building of the district staffed with support to help students with their online courses, Manganello says. By doing so, that creates more flexibility and opportunity so that students can take as many courses as they like. It also opens up opportunities to take more electives that wouldn’t fit their schedules if they didn’t have the online option.

As the extensive glossary of courses has grown over the years, Manganello says the health and physical education courses have become some of the most popular, where half of a student’s grade comes from online work and the other half comes from completing a fitness activity.

“Depending on what their interests are, that fitness activity can vary,” says Megan Meeder, health and physical education teacher. “They could be taking part in the dance program offered here, and that could count as their fitness. It could be that they’re participating in a varsity sport. They could be participating in marching band, which counts as some of their fitness, and then other students choose to do their fitness out in the community, where they’re doing that activity under the supervision of a professional.”

Pyle says the cyber PE courses have become so popular and successful partly because students are not only aware of the expectations, but they are also highly active and motivated to succeed both in PE and in their other courses.

“I think the one thing that they don’t give themselves enough credit for as the teachers is that they still keep it to a high level of expectation, so students are really expected to become lifelong fitness learners,” Manganello says.

This article was originally published in Community Health for The School Districts of Midwestern Health Combine.