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Taking Class Outside

Winter activities course combines face-to-face learning, great outdoors

After almost a year of online learning, Nicholas Hasenfus, ’22, craved an in-person educational experience. He found it in a Bridgewater State University class that prepares students for careers while improving their mental health.

“It’s bringing back a sense of normalness,” Nicholas said of Professor Maura Rosenthal’s Theory and Practice of Winter Activities class. “It helps me stay motivated. I look forward to this class every time we meet.”

Students in the new course in the Department of Movement Arts, Health Promotion and Leisure Studies learned how to dress safely in the cold, snowshoed around campus, built an obstacle course and organized a trip to Borderland State Park.

“One of the things missing for students and faculty are the real relationships that happen before and after class,” said Dr. Rosenthal, who praised her department and BSU facilities staff for making this course possible in a pandemic. “Students have loved just being together and having an experience with a group of people who are not in their immediate COVID group.”

Safety remained at the forefront as participants wore masks and ate lunch in their own cars. Classes took place almost entirely outdoors, which significantly reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

Theory and practice courses go beyond simply experiencing activities. Students learn how to instruct others and even teach lessons to their classmates. That dimension is especially important for the aspiring physical education instructors, therapists and recreation professionals.

Rosenthal’s students learned to modify activities for people with disabilities, a skill Tory Viola-Laughery, ’22, thinks will be invaluable in her career.

“I want to become a physical therapist, so I’m going to have to adapt exercises,” said Tory, a health science major. 

Nicholas, who is studying adaptive physical education, and Hannah Johnson, ’22, a physical education major with a concentration in recreation, hope to include winter activities in their future programming with inspiration from this course.

Rosenthal also introduced forest bathing, a Japanese practice to ease anxiety and improve health by immersing oneself in nature using different senses.

“It is a really nice way to remind ourselves about Earth and the outdoors,” she said. “People are really craving that attention from other living beings and closeness of walking the same trails.”

Simply being with others has made another pandemic-influenced semester easier, Tory said.

“It’s definitely positively impacted my mental health,” Hannah said. “It’s allowed me to have those interactions while getting some fresh air and experiencing something new.”

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