Local Businesses And The Overscheduled Kids They Serve Take Activities Online With Zoom and other online video chatting tools, kids in the region are finding alternative ways to practice the sports and activities they love. And it's helping local businesses stay afloat.
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Local Businesses And The Overscheduled Kids They Serve Take Activities Online

Local Businesses And The Overscheduled Kids They Serve Take Activities Online

Local Businesses And The Overscheduled Kids They Serve Take Activities Online

Local Businesses And The Overscheduled Kids They Serve Take Activities Online

Carol Middleton, founder of the DC Self Defense Karate Association, leads an online class with students, including Annabelle Stratton, age 6. Ingalisa Schrobsdorff /WAMU hide caption

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Ingalisa Schrobsdorff /WAMU

All Jessyka Bagdon's tap dancing classes are now online. She's an instructor at Knock on Wood Tap Studio in Takoma, D.C. Her little pupils peer at her through the screen as she demonstrates a new move.

"It goes, step, step, heel, heel. Four sounds," she emphasizes, and then pauses to watch as they try to imitate her movements.

Bagdon and other teachers had to work through a host of logistical challenges. What to do about kids who don't own their own tap shoes and borrow them at the studio? Turns out, Mary Jane flats work well. How to tap at home without ruining the floor? Dancing on a piece of plywood does the trick.

And what to do about the fact that Zoom is designed for meetings, not dance classes?

"They're made to pick up voices. And so how do we make the system not filter out our tap sounds as background noise?" Bagdon found some computer settings that made the audio better. Many of her students have had to negotiate "quiet hours" with their neighbors because tap dancing can be noisy. "Many of us, including myself, live in apartments. So that is definitely a struggle, particularly with everyone working from home now ... I am just trying to be as empathetic as I can, but otherwise, I still need to work."

Tapping at home means improvising. Sahar Giovacchini taps on a plywood board with a towel under it to limit floor damage and noise. Ingalisa Schrobsdorff /WAMU hide caption

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Ingalisa Schrobsdorff /WAMU

There is an unexpected advantage to holding classes online. Bagley says students who live outside of the region have enrolled, including some from other states.

"We really can use this as an opportunity for growth, instead of shrinking. That's a really fabulous positive to all the craziness."

With the region's shutdown entering its third week, small businesses are struggling to keep afloat. And those offering children's activities like dance classes, music and sports are no different. While some have closed, many are moving online, hoping to retain their students.

Some groups that normally compete are coming together to cooperate. More than 60 soccer clubs in the region have banded together to form an umbrella organization, DMV United. The coaches are sharing information and have pledged not to recruit players during the shutdown.

Sixteen-year-old Ava Morales was supposed to be in Arizona this week at a college showcase, with hundreds of college recruiters watching her play. Instead, she's stuck at home and can't see her teammates.

"We're all best friends, so it's heartbreaking we can't spend time together and our season is basically cancelled," she said.

Tommy Park, with the Alexandria Soccer Association, says coaches have shared different online workouts as well as apps that focus on specific soccer skills like juggling the ball. "The apps allow you to log how many juggles you have on the ball in a row and then log that. Maybe you can only get five the first time and then you see your teammates at eight. So try to get nine and you see all of your teammates progress."

Morales says her team posts videos on Instagram for each other and for teams they usually compete against.

"Our coach made it a competition. There are prizes for the winning teams each week. It's a good motivation to keep training and keep in shape."

Some teams make videos of their coolest soccer tricks, while others have Zoom meetings to check in with each other. Lisa Frates with Bethesda Soccer Club says some teams have gotten really creative and are looking into videos on sports psychology. "We're watching some of the old men's and women's national team games and reviewing them each week in one of those online meeting platforms."

But Matt Libber with the Maryland SoccerPlex wants to be clear: none of this substitutes for the adrenaline of being on the field. And he says some things definitely don't translate, including the importance of losing sometimes. "Competing online or through Instagram, you're losing but you're not losing." He says sometimes learning those life lessons as a kid, makes being an adult so much easier.

Nine-year-old Emilio Deocares is not sure about how he feels about taking karate classes online. "In my opinion, it's a little strange to be looking at a screen." His 10-year-old sister Bella agrees that it's "weird and awkward," and she says the technical difficulties are sometimes frustrating. But she points to the bright side. "You still get to see the same people, you still get to learn skills and you still get to get exercise."

Carol Middleton, a 7th-degree black belt, directs the director of D.C. Self-Defense Karate Association where Bella and Emilio study. She raced to record karate videos and ordered a projector so she could see her classes images, large, on a wall. She misses seeing students in person, especially because karate is very physical. She says it's more difficult to tell them how to align their bodies than to help them do it. "If I'm there, I can help them get in that position with hands on."

Middleton says only half of her students have enrolled in the online classes. One challenge: not all kids have access to a computer or high-speed Internet​. On the positive side, she says students are attending class more often, in part because they have no commuting time and most of them can participate even when their parents are busy.

"I have a lot of people that are from a foreign country. And they often will visit their country for two or three months. I can still have them on Zoom. They can still be taking the class along with everybody else."

Middleton says it's a powerful tool she hopes to keep using, long after this crisis is over.

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