Movement Academy Provides Physical, Social Outlet for Youngsters

Pensacola – About 100 youngsters divided into large groups, navigated an obstacle course, played pickleball and practiced tennis swings in the gym on a recent weekday afternoon at the University of West Florida Pensacola Campus.

All of them are members of the Movement Academy, which meets for two hours from 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and caters to home-schooled students.

“They get to touch on a lot of different sports,” said Heather Tucker, whose four children attend the academy. “Of course, the physical activity is a great component, too. We all want our kids to be active. But because they are home-schooled, this is a great social outlet.”

The academy, which is in its 11th year, serves children ages 4-18 and has a stated mission of striving to offer a unique variety of physical experiences while providing invaluable teaching experience for undergraduate physical education teaching majors at UWF.

“I enjoy doing this because I like to pass on knowledge to students,” said John Crossley, a senior who is majoring in physical education teacher education.

Crossley supervises the 7- and 8-year-olds at the academy this semester.

“I definitely feel like this experience will help me when I become a teacher,” Crossley said. “It helps me learn to see how students react to each other and to different situations.”

The undergraduates who teach the academy classes turn in lesson plans to the academy’s director, Dr. Christopher Wirth, an assistant professor of physical education with the Usha Kundu, MD, College of Health’s Department of Exercise Science and Community Health.

Wirth, who is in his fourth year of involvement with the Movement Academy, said about 12 undergraduate students per semester help teach the sessions.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Wirth said. “The home-schooled students get an outlet that meets their needs, and the undergraduate students get a chance to do a teaching practicum.

“We try to turn children and young adults onto fitness and movement skills they can use for a lifetime,” Wirth said. “Yes, it’s a kind of physical education class, but there is an atmosphere of summer camp fun to everything we do, too.”

Wirth supervises the assistant director of the Movement Academy, a graduate student studying for a master’s degree in physical education named Kelsey Langston. Langston, in turn, with the help of other graduate students, helps supervise the undergraduates who teach at the Movement Academy.

“We try to incorporate exercise into activities that students love to do,” Langston said. “We do a lot of team-building and skill-building exercises, too. Plus, the kids get exposed to all different kinds of equipment and sports.”

Langston said another reason she enjoys the Movement Academy is because it has a family atmosphere.

“There are some families that have been coming here for years,” Langston said. “You get to meet and sometimes teach the brothers and sisters of the students you have in class.

Wirth said the students who attend the academy hear about it through word of mouth in the home-school community, and families advocate for the program.

“We’ve only been coming for a about a year, so we’re pretty new,” said Laurie Glinter, whose five children, ages 16, 14, 11, 7 and 4, attend the academy. “We heard about it from a fellow home-schooler. And the great thing about it is, of course the physical activity and the social skills, but there is also the sheer joy of it. It’s something my children have to look forward to.”

Her son, 11-year-old Micah Glinter, summed up the experience of the Movement Academy succinctly.

“It’s fun,” he said.