By Brenna R. Kelly
Her title may be physical education teacher, but a better description of what Angela Stark does at the School for the Performing Arts (SCAPA) might be whole-school wellness coordinator.
“I don’t see myself as a PE teacher in the gym; I see my job as creating a healthier environment from the time that students walk in the building,” said Stark, who teaches 4th through 8th grade at the Fayette County school. “My job as physical education teacher is to teach life skills and physical literacy so when the kids leave me and go on to high school and graduate, they know how to take care of their bodies and know how to live a healthy lifestyle.”
In her three years at SCAPA, Stark has restructured the health and physical education classes, worked with the cafeteria to offer healthy snacks, started cooking lessons for her middle school students and organized an annual 5K run.
Just days after this year’s 5K, Stark will be honored as one of the five best middle school PE teachers in the country. Last fall, Stark was named the Society of Health and Physical Educators’ (SHAPE) southern district Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. On March 23 at SHAPE’s convention in Nashville, she will learn whether she will win Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
Before winning the SHAPE southern district award, Stark was named the 2016 Secondary Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD). She also won the association’s Distinguished Service Award.
To those who know Stark or have seen her in action, the accolades and awards come as no surprise.
SCAPA Principal Beth Randolph said the school’s nearly 300 students look forward to PE class, where on any given day they might be roller skating, riding a bicycle or playing fun, physically active games.
“Angela always plans exciting, engaging and healthful lessons, whether they be for physical education or health class,” Randolph said. “She truly cares about the students’ physical fitness and teaches them to live healthy lives for life.”
Stark wants to impart to her students the same love for physical activity and healthy living that she developed while growing up near Seattle. She ran track and cross country while getting her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, and certifications in special education and health at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.
“I like inspiring people and seeing people improve,” Stark said. “It’s my favorite thing do to. I love seeing kids enjoy physical activity, I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they are trying something new and getting it.”
Stark has taught in Fayette County schools since 2003, when she and her husband moved to Lexington. She taught for 12 years at Southern Middle School before moving to SCAPA in 2015.
She has focused on making changes at SCAPA that have improved the wellness of her students and the entire school. Stark decided to alternate health and PE classes every other day for the 18 weeks she gets the middle school students.
“So they’re not just getting nine weeks of PE and nine weeks of health,” she said. “This way they are getting the physical activity and the fitness for a longer amount of time.”
She also received a grant for cooking equipment and bought small ovens and blenders to teach cooking in her 7th-grade health classes. Because the elective classes at SCAPA focus on the arts, students do not have Family and Consumer Science classes.
“We want to teach them easy snacks,” she said. “Because our kids are so busy, teaching them the skills that they need to make a quick, healthy snack that still tastes good is really important.”
Students learn to make kale chips, smoothies and broccoli tots, and then make them for teachers and fellow students.
Stark also found a way to allow the middle school students to have five minutes of recess every day.
“It’s not a lot, but they can go be active. They can throw football, they can walk,” she said. “We squeeze it in.”
Stark stretches her wellness teaching into other classes by encouraging teachers to give students movement breaks, which Stark uses during health classes.
“If I’m wanting the other teachers to do it, I should do it too,” she said.
Stark’s philosophy of empowering students with the skills they need to lead a healthy lifestyle is exactly what physical education should be, said Jamie Sparks, coordinated school health project director for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).
KDE has advocated for schools to adopt the of Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP) approach to physical education, which calls for schools to use all opportunities for students to be physically active, meet the nationally-recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to be physically active for a lifetime.
“Angela embodies this and is a role model as a physical activity leader for her school by promoting wellness for not just students, but for staff and parents within her school community,” Sparks said. “I firmly believe that if every school had an Angela Stark, the world would truly be a better, healthier place.”
MORE INFO …