Prioritizing PE Post-Pandemic: An Interview with a PE Teacher

Danielle Branciforti has taught PE for 30 years. She has been at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children in Woodmere, NY for the last year and a half.  

Active Schools: How has the pandemic changed PE for you and your students?  

Danielle:  It’s been a disaster – trying to do PE remotely is such a disservice to the students, all of whom have some developmental, behavioral, or some physical limitations. Our school offered a hybrid model, but the state has had rolling quarantines that keep students home. Last spring we were fully remote until September. I was making a pre-recorded video per day that the students could watch and do at their leisure, and I kept the same warm-up and cool-down in each video to maintain routine and consistency for them. We had a virtual Field Day that went great. But then in the fall this year, I started doing live virtual classes as well as teaching inperson. Unfortunately, students just weren’t signing on (maybe 4 out of 15 students) or were signing on but with parents or grandparents doing something in the room that wasn’t conducive to movement. It’s been incredibly difficult to engage my classes and build a foundation for them, and the repercussions of the pandemic may take years to undo.  

Active Schools: What do you find that your students respond most enthusiastically to in PE? 

Danielle: I try to make class as engaging as possible. I dress in funny, quirky outfits, play kid-friendly music, and relate the fitness activities to things kids can identify with, such as Batman or unicorns. When we’re in-person, I end every session with five minutes of dancing with a bubble machine, and they love it. 

Active Schools: What are some elements of a well-rounded, effective PE program? 

Danielle: For it to be effective, a school needs to realize the importance and prioritize PE accordingly. This requires collaboration with other teams and departments. At my school, this means working with the occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy teams so that the students therapy sessions don’t result in missed PE class. Having PE three times a week for 30-45 minutes for the youngest grades would be ideal, because once-a-week makes it challenging to for them to retain skill-learning. 

Also, I try to make everything play-based or group teamwork as opposed to competitive sports or things that are win-lose, and I encourage them with praise around things like who’s listening or participating well, not necessarily who’s the fastest/first/etc. I ask the students what they have an interest in doing that day so they feel heard. And to improve our PE program, I find resources and equipment every way I can by using unusual objects, applying for free items or grants, and taking advantage of every opportunity out there for PE teachers.  

Active Schools: What can people, especially parents, do to support PE?  

Danielle: I reach out all the time to families by sending ideas, activities, resourcesincluding how to find movement in everyday activities. One of the best things parents can do is take advantage of these resources and engage with PE lessons. Find ways to be active as a family during all times of day, such as standing on one foot while brushing teeth, bear crawling to bed at night, etc. 

I also think that, due to the pandemic, parents are going to realize that they have more power than they thought and are going to push for changes. When parents, especially of children with disabilities, recognize that movement is a necessary outlet for their children, I hope they prioritize physical education and fight for physical education to be more than one time a week. 

Active Schools: What do you hope changes about PE, and attitudes around it, moving forward?  

Danielle: We’ve got to keep pushing and pushing for PE support and advocating for resources and prioritization until more people get on board. One of my biggest concerns is that the school systems are going to become more reliant on or open to virtual learning in the future after the pandemic, but it’s not a viable option for atypical students—or most students. There’s no social interaction, there’s no accountability, and it would be a big detriment to kids. 


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Comments (26)
  • Danielle is the best APE teacher not only in long island, new york State and the U S

    • Thanks mom. Love you

  • Danielle is a fantastic educator who has inspired me in many ways as a coworker to her in the past

    • Thanks Lauren

  • Danielle is an amazing APE teacher, she gets the students up and moving. Danielle is always looking for new resources to bring into her gym as well as share with her colleagues.

    • Thanks Karen

  • Danielle was a great teacher to work alongside with and I have learned so much from her teaching. Absolute inspiration.

    • Thanks Nicholas. Love you

  • Danielle is the best APE teacher ever!! She makes gym fun, interesting and exciting. She is always introducing new movements. We love gym with Danielle!!!

    • And I love gym with my love bug and her class of little love bugs

  • Danielle is a great teacher. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her. She has a great personality and connects well with all of the students and faculty. Throughout the few years of working together I’ve learned so much. She has so much love and passion for her job. Her teachings have led me to become a teacher; so that I too can positively influence my students!

  • Awe Meghan thank you so much. You’re going to be an amazing teacher.

  • Danielle has love and commitment in providing the most for her students. She’s always looking for resources and new routines to introduce to her kiddos; adapting her lessons if necessary. If you know her or have been lucky enough to have worked with her, you will know that her loudness and crazy outfits keep her students engaged.

    • Thanks Jenny. Yup loud and crazy outfits to fit a loud and crazy but fun “ME” sums up my teaching style perfectly. Thanks Jenny

  • My son loves gym with Danielle. She is always coming up with fun and engaging ways to interact with the students. My sons personal favorite is “body bowling” where he uses his body and a scooter to knock down pins. Danielle is always clear in her directions to students and offers support when needed. We love Danielle!!!

  • And I love my students, parents and colleagues. Thank you Aviva

    • I’m so proud to have been a co-worker with Mrs Branciforti. She is committed for the children to achieve their best. This is visible in the children’s responses and adoration for her.

  • I too am proud to have worked with you Carol. Thank you

  • It takes a unique and special person to teach APE. Danielle has these qualities and truly loves her students .

    • Thanks Diane

  • If you have been lucky enough to know Danielle then you know their is no one better to work with kids. She is always thinking of things to do for and with them.

    • Thanks Steve

  • What a terrific interview! Danielle’s dedication to her profession and her students is extraordinary. It’s teachers like this that make the world a much better place.

  • Thanks Harriet.

  • Danielle is an amazing educator and has always been dedicated to her profession. Her students are lucky to have a teacher that is so dynamic and innovative and always looking out for their best interest. Great interview!

    • Thanks Laura

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