Taking on the challenge of teaching gym in an Orthodox Jewish girls school

“It can be very challenging to introduce sports to these girls at first because they were not exposed to any of it, and you have to respect their clothing as well,” explains Marla Steinfeld.

Marla Steinfeld loves teaching physical education to teenage girls at Belz Community High School, an Orthodox Jewish girls school downtown. As the only physical education teacher there for grades 7 to 11, her classes are completely different from the more serious ones they take.

“My goal is for the girls to have fun participating in sports, games, and activities,” says the Côte Saint-Luc resident, who has been teaching at the school for 11 years. “My gym classes give the girls the opportunity to have some serious fun. I am always thinking of new ideas, and I love to be creative.”

The students do circuit training, and they play games like basketball, dodgeball, volleyball, spikeball, soccer, baseball and floor hockey. This year Steinfeld is introducing the girls to their very own version of pickleball.

“Pickleball is a fun, safe, and challenging game that is a combination of tennis and ping pong, played indoors using paddles and a ball,” she says. “There are many rules to follow, however the objective to obtain points is to get the other team to commit a fault. I will adjust the rules and regulations to fit with the school and the equipment they supply. To do so we will play with different rackets and use a nonstandard net as well.”

As a teacher who specializes in gym classes at orthodox girls schools, she loves the challenge. Steinfeld also taught at Bais Tzippora High School for three years, and at Beth Jacob for one year, both located in Outremont. She is also a substitute at the Lester B. Pearson School Board where she teaches every grade, and every subject.

“It can be very challenging to introduce sports to these girls at first because they were not exposed to any of it, and you have to respect their clothing as well,” explains Steinfeld, who once ran her own aerobic fitness establishment called Marla’s Bodyworks. “However, these girls love the games, are very excited about them and are so energetic. They’re great athletes, and the more challenges I give them, the more they want to take them on. I find this very rewarding. It’s been a great experience for me.”

Steinfeld is with the girls three to four days a week. And since are only 10 hours allotted in the schedule for gym, her time is limited.

“I’ve come a long way teaching Phys. Ed. at this school, and so am very pleased. Having a structured program is new. I had no equipment when I first started. This is the first time they have a gym room. We had to go across the street,” says Steinfeld, adding, “In fact, up until Grade 7, they never had a specific gym teacher. New Grade 7’s and new siblings come in every year, so it’s really exciting.”


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