LA PLATA, Md. – Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) physical education (PE) teachers were recently honored by SHAPE Maryland, an organization that promotes and supports health and wellness.
The state chapter of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) named Marty Margolis of Walter J. Mitchell Elementary School, Elementary School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. To read more about Margolis, click here.
Four other CCPS PE teachers each received the Simon McNeely Award for outstanding teaching and service in health, physical education, recreation or dance. Honored were Jonel Barnes of Henry E. Lackey High School, Kristin Jones of Mattawoman Middle School, Seth Rak of the F.B. Gwynn Educational Center and Kellee Shoemaker of William B. Wade Elementary School.
SHAPE Maryland held a convention last month in Ocean City that allows PE educators an opportunity to network and share ideas.
Next step after graduation
Jonel Barnes has been a PE teacher for the past eight years. Starting her career as a middle school PE teacher in North Carolina, she has been at Henry E. Lackey High School for the past six years.
While at Fayetteville State College in North Carolina, Barnes debated majoring in education or forensic science. Teaching won out. “I come from a family of educators,” she said. “My mom is a librarian; my brother is currently a principal in Howard County.”
An athlete growing up, Barnes knew she wanted to incorporate her love of sports into a teaching career. “I always loved sports and always loved kids, so putting the two together just worked for undergrad and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
A big draw for teaching at the high school level was the chance to coach. At Lackey, Barnes coaches varsity volleyball and is the girls varsity basketball coach. Basketball and volleyball were the two sports she focused on in high school, but now prefers bicycling and going to the gym four or five mornings a week before school starts.
Outside of coaching, Barnes enjoys teaching high school students because they are in a crucial time in their lives. They are still kids but are on the cusp of heading out into the “real world.” The more they learn now, the better off they will be when they find themselves having to make important decisions, she said. “To me — and I might be bias — but this is the most essential age. We have kids coming in who are freshmen and trying to figure out who they are,” Barnes said. “We have kids who are getting ready to go out into the world. Getting to see that maturity shift, that cultivation of a kid … that is something I enjoy being a part of.”
This is the first year Barnes hasn’t taught health, but it doesn’t deter her from having conversations with students about their health and the consequences they could face for neglecting it now. “When you go to the doctor, what do they ask you? The square root of something? That’s not a shot at math, but doctors ask you how you feel,” Barnes said. “That lifelong wellness part is what I try to tie in.”
Matt Golonka, health and physical education content specialist with Charles County Public Schools (CCPS), said Barnes is committed to positivity impacting her students and colleagues.
“She is not just a teacher, she is also a role model,” he said. “Her positive attitude is contagious.”
Barnes is currently in an administration program interning with Lackey Principal Kathy Perriello in hopes of going into school leadership. For now, Barnes is happy with PE. She recently filled in for an injured student during an advanced PE class’s basketball game. Barnes and her colleague, Erik Koch, collaborate to allow students in her sports officiating class experience calling and scoring games, while Koch’s students compete in class.
“PE to me is one of the most essential classes a kid needs,” Barnes said. “They discover the link between their bodies and minds, and with mental health being talked about more, what they learn in PE are things they can take out into the real world.”
Rain delay relay
Eighth graders cooped up on a rainy day could lead to disaster, but the students in Kristin Jones PE class at Mattawoman Middle School were too busy dribbling basketballs, hula hooping, crab walking and cup stacking to mind the rain. Students lined up in five-person teams to take part in relay races. Throwing, balancing, dexterity and movement were all put to the test.
“When you see them huffing and puffing, you know they got the physical activity in,” Jones said. “But they also had to work together, and they were into the activity. I checked three boxes today. Success!”
Jones grew up playing sports with soccer, basketball and softball being the big three she played in high school. But there has been a culture shift in society and kids aren’t as physically active anymore. “We used to go outside after school. After homework was done, we played sports and did things,” Jones said. “Some students do play organized sports, but because they are on their phones so much it is good to give students that activity piece and that social piece.”
At the middle school level Jones is working with students she can talk to on a more sophisticated level, but they still retain some young childhood traits. In PE, students are engaged in activities where they often must pull together. It’s a skill that might not be honed as sharply anymore now that conversations are captured in texts rather than face to face. “It not about the sport or the score,” Jones said. “It’s about teamwork. They still have to work together and cooperate.”
Jones has been teaching for 15 years — the first 10 were in Baltimore, the past five with CCPS and all at Mattawoman. She knew she wanted to be a teacher, and she carried her love of sports into college, graduating from Towson University.
“I like taking care of people and teaching kind of fits into that,” Jones said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to teach, but I liked sports, so they just merged together.”
Jones is patient, hardworking and dedicated to her students, Matt Golonka, health and physical education specialist for Charles County Public Schools (CCPS), said. “Her lessons are well organized, have clear expectations and are unique and diversified across the curriculum.”
Teaching PE isn’t for everyone as evidenced recently when a classroom teacher substituted for Jones. The teacher told her the subject wasn’t for her but was fascinated to see another side of her students’ personalities emerge in the setting. The students who were well behaved and helpful in class showed a competitive side in the gym. “It was a totally different side to them” the teacher told Jones. “Teaching PE, we do get to see kids in a different light,” Jones said. “We get to have fun, we get to be active, we get those moments to talk with them.”
Most important skills
Seth Rak became interested in the physical education field like many — he was an athlete in high school. A member of the football and wrestling teams, he wanted to continue participating in organized sports after graduation. “I wanted to wrestle in college, and I wanted to coach,” he said.
Following a summer job in college at a camp for children with disabilities — “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I really enjoyed the experience,” he said — Rak delved further into the field, focusing on working with students with special needs.
As an adapted physical education resource teacher for Charles County Public Schools (CCPS), Rak travels to schools teaming up with other teachers to ensure all students have access to PE. “In adapted PE, students are not going to be able to access all the PE curriculum, so we adapt the curriculum to meet their needs,” Rak said.
There are several models that can be used to adapt PE lessons for students with disabilities. Students can be in a self-contained PE class working on a skill like throwing and catching. “We work on that skill, developing it and then try to transfer that into a general PE class with their peers in a modified or specific role that’s meaningful. There are endless possibilities,” Rak said.
Adapted PE lessons parallel what students in general education classes are learning — “With the understanding that we’re looking ahead and developing skills students are going to use the rest of their lives,” Rak said.
Matt Golonka, Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) content specialist for health and physical education, said Rak is always thinking of ways to grow the adapted PE program. “Seth has been dedicated toward expanding the district’s adapted physical education program and is continually working to implement new programs that positively impact student learning,” he said.
Adapted PE classes open more doors for students. “Without specialized instruction, some students might not learn the skills at all,” Rak said.
Throughout his 15-year career with CCPS, Rak has been involved in the school’s system’s unified sports program which pairs students with and without disabilities on teams. Teams compete in tennis during the fall, bocce in the winter and track and field during the spring. All students can benefit from participating in the unified program, Rak said. “It gives students a chance to learn from others, gives them leadership opportunities and socialization,” he said.
“It’s my opinion — especially for my students — PE is the most important [class]. “There is so much that goes on in PE,” Rak said. This includes not only students with disabilities but their peers in regular education classes as well. “In PE, students are learning how to work with their peers, they learn skills that help them access activities with their parents. There’s a fitness component and there’s a quality-of-life factor. I do feel it’s the most important subject specially for students with disabilities with social and cognitive disabilities.”
Since she was a child, Kellee Shoemaker knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I’ve known I wanted to a PE teacher for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I had fun interactive PE teachers when I was younger, and it made me want to do the same thing.”
As the physical education teacher at William B. Wade Elementary School, Shoemaker is emulating her role models by encouraging students to be active and take an interest in their overall health. “I want them to know that being active isn’t just doing pushups or running,” she said. “It can be playing a game with your friends.”
During a recent morning at Wade, fourth grade students in Robert Crowley’s class practiced overhand throwing and hitting a large target. This was accomplished by splitting into two teams to face off for a game of Battleball. Armed with Nerf balls and pompoms made of yarn, students were given the objective to knock over the opponent’s castles (a structure made of hula hoops) and sink them in a “tower” made of upturned gym mats.
Each student — regardless of skill level — was engaged and helped their team. “I tell them when they come into the gym, they are only expected to give their best and are expected to have fun,” Shoemaker said. “We really don’t have a problem with kids not wanting to participate because they don’t feel that they are good enough. I think that’s a result of the learning environment. I teach them the importance of having fun while being active. That’s really the focus.”
Matt Golonka, Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) content specialist for health and physical education, said Shoemaker engages and challenges students. “Mrs. Shoemaker creates the perfect environment for her students to learn,” he said. “She implements her instruction with care.”
Shoemaker said there is more to PE than moving around the gym. “PE teaches life lessons. Kids learn to win and lose. A lot of them struggle with that nowadays. They lose and they blame the other team or get mad, so PE really helps them deal with emotions — how to win and how to lose. How to be a good teammate. How to be a good friend. They learn the value of a strong work ethic and working as a team toward a common goal.”
At the SHAPE convention, Val Cheseldine, PE teacher at Eva Turner Elementary School, was honored with a Shape MD Presidential Citation. A feature on Cheseldine will be posted at a later date.