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Beyond The Gym Floor

Beyond The Gym Floor—Aric Pelafas

Jamie O'Connor, a Teaching Associate Professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, speaks with Aric Pelafas, a physical educator at Carrie Busey Elementary School in Champaign.

Click here to see the full transcript.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Loyal listeners, we are back. Our beloved podcast "Beyond the Gym Floor" was derailed last spring due to just a very mild global pandemic. JK. Now we are resuming our conversations with area physical educators through Zoom. I'm currently sitting in my closet right now. And if I'm being totally honest, I don't even like saying the word "Zoom" anymore, and we are only one week into the fall term. This does not bode well for my mental well-being in the slightest.

So with that said, Aric Pelafas of Carrie Busey Elementary School, thank you for joining me on "Beyond the Gym Floor."

b>ARIC PELAFAS: Thank you for having me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: No problem. Aric, let's do this. So tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?

ARIC PELAFAS: Yeah, so I'm from Champaign originally. So I went to Bottenfield, which is one of the unit four schools, until third grade. And then I moved over to St. Joseph, which is about 15 minutes east of Champaign. And I finished the rest of my school years there until I went to eastern Illinois. Got a bachelor's in education, kinesiology. And made my way back over here to the unit four school district, where I've been ever since.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So what led you to physical education specifically when you were at Eastern?

ARIC PELAFAS: To be honest with you, I think I knew that I wanted to be a physical education teacher before I even made it to Eastern. It started for me in eighth grade. I had a coach-- a track and cross-country coach at St. Joe-- by the name of John McDaniel, who goes by McD that taught there forever and was just a great person. He always helped me when I needed things. And I just knew that I wanted to make an impact on kids lives like he had been doing for so many.

So I knew going even into high school that that's what I wanted to do. And then, going into college, it was straight into it. I was ready to roll and really never looked back once I knew that's what I wanted.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Wow, not many 13-year-olds can say they know exactly what they want to do with their lives. That's pretty cool.

ARIC PELAFAS: I mean, it was just a mixture of that and just always wanted to be around sports, playing sports in high school, and just enjoying that environment, and just loving all of that. Because I'm a coach as well, but being able to see kids improve and to see them in and out of school all the time just has really been a pleasure for me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So I mentioned at the start of this that, obviously, we're still in kind of a weird situation with COVID-19. So I know that for unit four you all are teaching remotely for the first quarter. What is one online strategy that you've used that you can already tell is successful, or that you're excited to try in upcoming weeks?

ARIC PELAFAS: So what we've been doing at Carrie Busey specifically. The first thing I want to say is shout out to the PE Twitter community because I get so many ideas from them. One which was using Google Slides to make interactive classrooms. So we've actually been able to take pictures and videos of ourselves and turn them into little GIFs so the students are seeing us. And these are interactive GIFs where they can click on these things where it takes them to a website about nutrition, or a video about a workout we're going to do for the day. And it just gives it a little more of a homey feeling, or a feeling like they're actually in school again.

So we've been using the Bitmojis as well. But that virtual classroom is how we've started off this first week in PE. We just dive into that classroom so the kids-- it seems like they're literally there. And then we go into the activity for the day.

One thing that I haven't tried yet that I've talked to other teachers about is Flipgrid, which students are able to post videos of themselves exercising. And that's one thing that I would like to try in the near future. Probably with my 5th grade students. That seems to be a really good tool for PE teachers right now who are working remotely.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Thank you. What's the most important lesson your students have taught you over the years?

ARIC PELAFAS: So I am going to learn a lot more because this is just the start of year four for me. But I would definitely say the one thing that they've taught me is that there's always something going on in the background, like in people's lives, and to be understanding. Sometimes my student who might be my best student nine out of 10 days is having a bad day, and something's going on. And I need to be understanding that there's things going on in their life that could affect them.

Because I know I have days where I come to school and I sure don't feel like I want to teach for that day, and I might not be on my A game. And my students have always been there to support me and have been there for me. So really, just always being understanding of students, or just people in general, that there's things going on that you don't know about that could be affecting them. Just to treat people kindly a see what's going on with them before you get upset or make decisions without talking to them.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you've just alluded to just even having an understanding that they are living a life outside of your gymnasium. Do you have any other strategies where you try to reach your students in a way, like where you let them know that you're there for them?

ARIC PELAFAS: Absolutely. It's just every possible time you have to interact with the kids and ask them questions, get to know things about them, do it. That's the most important thing. Once the kids trust you, they want to work for you, they want to do things for you. And I've slowly been learning that.

At first, I felt, when I first started, I had to have strict management, be in extreme control. And the more I've learned to just get to know my students, I almost feel like-- I know I'm K through 5. I almost feel like I'm on a friend level with my students. But it's a respectful level where they know when it's time to work, when it's time to play, because we spend so much time talking about any and everything that they're just comfortable with me. I'm comfortable with them. So just reach out every time you can to talk to a student about whatever it is for that day.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Absolutely. And the one thing that immediately comes to mind for me is just how this current situation is just changing that dynamic. I mean, so many elementary students especially look forward to physical education so much that this has to be a crushing blow to them, I mean, many of them lean on their physical educators for emotional support. And how are we going to maintain that during this time?

ARIC PELAFAS: Yes, that's been tough.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: And I'm not expecting you to have an answer. I mean, this is tough.

ARIC PELAFAS: It is tough. Like, we have-- right now through Google classroom. Before, I muted it because students were commenting 200 times a day. But before I had to do that, make that decision, I was getting lots of comments like, Mr. P, I did this today, I did that today. I made a video of how to do the PACER test inside. And I had someone say, Mr. P, I got a score of 119. I know that was close to your score.

They just want to share things with us. So that makes things difficult. I know through the Zoom meetings I've been doing, I've been doing exercises and workouts. And the last five minutes, I just talk to them. I say, I want to hear your voices today. So just tell me anything that's going on.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love that. I love that. You're trying to keep that human connection there.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Do you have-- and I know you're only in year four, but do you have a teaching highlight, or one teaching highlight, that comes to mind?

ARIC PELAFAS: Yeah. Last year, actually. So one of my favorite units is our jump rope unit, and it's our kids' favorite units as well is what I've seen. And not all of my kids have resources at home. But I had one student who came up to me during this unit and showed me a jump rope he made out of shoelaces so he could practice to be better in class because we had some system where they were trying to level up on consecutive jumps so they can join a club where they got to sign their name. And said, Mr. P, I made this jump rope at home with shoelaces so I could practice. And so that touched me, showing that.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Wow, that's commitment.

ARIC PELAFAS: Going on and on.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah, I love that. I love that. And it just shows that you really actually don't need a lot of money to be active. And the fact that he valued your class enough to make that happen is just showing that you're making an impact in your job. So that's awesome.

Aric, as a Champaign-Urbana hometown legend, your students and the fans of this podcast-- and there are thousands, as I've indicated in the past-- they need to know. So what do you listen to in the car when you're driving?

ARIC PELAFAS: I'm a music guy. I listen to music all the time, from the moment I wake up the moment I go to bed I feel like I'm listening to music. And I listen to all sorts of music. Anything from country, rock, hip hop, pop, anything. I'm listening to anything and everything because I like dancing. I like good vibes.

And so as soon as I get in the car, I'm turning on whatever song is the vibe I'm feeling right there, and we just roll with it. Try to make something positive.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: My 22-month-old was really rocking out this morning to Lady Gaga. I mean, I wish I had video evidence of this. But he was feeling Lady Gaga this morning.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. Favorite snack?

ARIC PELAFAS: Favorite snack is probably guac and chips. I'm a big guac guy. I probably guac or avocados, like, five to six days a week.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I am allergic to avocado, which is like the worst allergy to have in the world. And boy, I found that out the hard way, because every once in a while it will accidentally be on something that I've ordered, and I won't notice it right away. Whew, it's terrible.

Let's see here. Favorite toy as a kid?

ARIC PELAFAS: Favorite toy. Maybe like a ball. I was an outside, just go play in the dirt, just hanging outside with my friends. So I don't know, maybe a soccer ball, basketball, football. Just something in that sense. But nothing-- I can't remember any toy specifically.

It was just go out, hanging out with my friends, was what I liked to do. Whatever was out there was going to entertain us for the day.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: First concert?

ARIC PELAFAS: My first concert was a Kendrick Lamar and Mac Miller concert.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Wow, that's pretty cool. Usually people's responses to this are something embarrassing. But that's actually quite cool.

ARIC PELAFAS: Yeah, it was actually really neat. It was my first time going to an amphitheater as well. So I was outdoor at the Eclipse Music Center, I think is what it's called, in Indiana. So it was really cool. Got to be up in the outdoor seating part listening to some music, and it was definitely a good concert for my first one.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Wow. Was it amazing?

ARIC PELAFAS: Absolutely, it was amazing. I had never been to one before, and it was awesome. Mac Miller was in high school at the time. And I remember I was in high school. And he was saying, who's not going to school tonight? And I go, I am. Or tomorrow.


ARIC PELAFAS: I was like, wow must be nice.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Must be nice. So finally, when you settle down in the evening, what TV show do you look forward to watching? And there are definitely wrong answers here, Aric, so be careful.

ARIC PELAFAS: Definitely I have a TV, but I don't have any TV stuff going on on it. So if I were to watch anything, it would be sports. I like any NBA game. I'm big into the NBA. But not really a TV show guy.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Ugh, and that was the wrong answer, I am so sorry. You have failed this podcast.

ARIC PELAFAS: I apologize. I feel like-- recently I got a puppy. So my TV show has been what piece of furniture has been chewed up for the day when I come home. So that's my entertainment in the evenings.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh my gosh. What kind of puppy did you get?

ARIC PELAFAS: It's a Doberman Pinscher, so he's a working breed. Lots of energy, and needs to be exercised every day. And he reminds me of that. If I don't get him that exercise, we have some behavior issues, which is pretty similar to our students. It's great to get them exercise.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, yeah. I've been down the puppy road before. I know that exercise is key to their behavior. Well, Aric, thank you for being a guest on "Beyond the Gym Floor." Take care.

ARIC PELAFAS: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Thank you so much for being a guest on "Beyond the Gym Floor." And if you would like to be a guest, or simply have a comment or a question, you can reach me, Jamie O'Connor, at Encourage your friends to listeners subscribe to the show either through iTunes, iHeart Radio, or Spotify. Thanks for listening, folks.

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