By Brenna R. Kelly
Many people assume physical education teachers just play dodgeball all day.
But PE and health educators teach students skills and impart knowledge students will use no matter what career they later choose, said Sue Banister, awards coordinator for the Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD).
Each year the group chooses two PE teachers, one elementary and one secondary, who are creative, professional, proactive and innovative in their teaching, Banister said.
The 2014 KAHPERD teachers of the year are Daniel Hill, a teacher at Tates Creek Elementary (Fayette County) and Rhonda Smith, a teacher at Lloyd Memorial High School (Elsmere-Erlanger Independent).
Hill isn’t your stereotypical physical education teacher. He doesn’t coach anything and he’s not really into sports.
“My approach to PE is not, I guess you would say, traditional,” said Hill, who has taught at Tates Creek for seven years. “I’m not sports guy, I don’t watch sports on TV. I watch the Food Network.”
He’s more interested in the reasons why people eat what they eat and whether they chose to be active.
“The psychology of it is more interesting to me than the score on the scoreboard,” he said. That doesn’t mean Hill shies away from competition. He runs half-marathons and completed the Tough Mudder, a 12-mile extreme obstacle course event.
He wants his students to learn how to be active and healthy, not just how to play a game. Health education isn’t required in to be part of PE in elementary school, he said.
“But I can’t differentiate between the two,” Hill said. So while his students are moving during class, he’s imparting tidbits about how to live healthy.
Next to reading, he said, learning how to be healthy is the most important life skill students should learn.
“At some point in their lives, they will come to the realization that, if they are not healthy, they can’t do anything else,” he said.
While at Tates Creek, Hill secured a grant to re-establish the school’s garden which now has six raised beds, two rain barrels and a composter. He’s also on the School Wellness Action Plan (SWAP) team, a non-profit community organization trying to improve the health of Fayette County students.
Before coming to Tates Creek, Hill taught for eight years at Collins Lane Elementary (Franklin County). Hill has also held several positions in KAHPERD and recently gave a presentation at a conference explaining a skill he would rather not have learned – how to teach PE out of a trailer.
Hill lost the use of the school’s gym for a year and a half while Tates Creek was being renovated.
“All teachers face multiple challenges, but that I was not prepared for,” he said. “The fortunate thing was that the kids still seemed to enjoy coming to my class.”
His presentation, “Small Space/Maximum Activity,” showed fellow PE teachers how to provide activities in a classroom-sized space when their gym is otherwise occupied.
Smith can relate to having to improvise. She once spent hours setting up the gym for a “Survivor Challenge” only to come in the next day and find the mats she had laid out for her “boats” moved.
But that’s part of being a PE teacher, she said.
“You have to be adaptive, you have to be flexible,” she said. “You can’t get bent out of shape over anything – you’re going to lose your gym. The gym is not your classroom, it’s for everyone.”
Smith, who has been teaching for 24 years, said her goal is to continually find new ways to keep her students moving – not just in PE class but throughout their lives.
She’s taken students to a boxing gym to introduce them to fitness boxing, on a snow skiing field trip and canoeing.
She also brings new experiences to her students. Golf and tennis pros visited to teach their sports, a police officer taught self-defense techniques, a belly dancer taught body control and a hip-hop dance teacher taught the students some moves.
Smith also attends conferences, networks with other teachers and finds new ideas on the Internet.
“It’s trial and error. Some of the things you see work in some of the schools but they don’t work in your situation,” she said. “You have to adapt them and you mold them and make them your own.”
She’s also open to ideas from students for new games to play or new ways to play them.
“A few years ago I had some students who kept working and working with a game until they came up with a totally new version,” Smith said. “And then we played that for years.”
At a recent KAHPERD conference, Smith along with one of her students gave a presentation on orienteering, in which students use navigation tools such as a compass or map to find certain locations.
Before coming to Lloyd, Smith taught health for 10 years at Williamsburg Independent. She’s also coached tennis, basketball and volleyball.
Smith showed her flexibility again when the “Hunger Games” series and the movies the followed made archery cool. She now coaches Lloyd’s archery team and is planning to teach the sport to elementary school children in an after-school program.
Most of the students in her archery program are not athletic in the traditional sense, but they really want to belong to something, she said.
“Their sense of accomplishment in archery tends to flow over into their academic life,” she said, “and it gives them more confidence and a real feeling of connectedness.”
MORE INFO …
Daniel Hill Daniel.hill@Fayette.kyschools.us
Rhonda Smith Rhonda.firstname.lastname@example.org