Originally published Feb. 10, 2020 in The News-Enterprise.
Chad Sweeney strives to inspire kids through PE
A positive experience with physical education in school helped guide Chad Sweeney toward a career.
Sweeney, 43, grew up in Bardstown where he went to school and played sports.
In school, he had a PE teacher named Junior Dugan who inspired him. He said other PE teachers in school that seemed to just roll out a few balls and have the students shoot around playing basketball. But Dugan created a hands-on, active physical education program.
“My early impressions of PE was that you do something in every class,” he said. “When I first started doing this, I knew I wanted the kids to do something active every time they walked into the door.”
Sweeney wants the students he teaches at Lincoln Trail Elementary School to stay active and wants what they learn to stick with them.
In the classrooms with upper grades, he lets students lead the exercises at the beginning of class.
“Hopefully that translates into them carrying it on for their lives,” he said.
He uses sports model programming, fitness education and activities that sneak the fitness into their day. With the latter, kids don’t realize they are exercising until later and muscles they didn’t realize they were working are sore.
He noted a study he read that conducted brain scans of people who had taken a 20-minute walk. It lit up with brain activity, he said.
“That to me says it’s key that we keep PE in schools, and maybe even increase it, so their brains are stimulated and ready to do more activity in the classroom,” he said.
Katrina Johnson said she has three kids at Lincoln Trail who have learned the importance of being active from Sweeney’s class.
“He is very encouraging of all students but takes the class and activities seriously,” she said. “He pushes them to grow and become better.”
No matter their personal athletic interest, all three of her children have loved having him as a teacher.
“He has taught them all that being active, whether that is in dance or sports, is important for a healthy life,” Johnson said. “They have come home and been sore from elementary school PE and to me that’s great — I know they are working hard.”
She also said he is a nice man who the students like and he will help wherever needed.
“I personally know he is a man of faith and that is evident in his example,” she said. “In elementary education, there are very few male examples and Sweeney is one I want my son to look up to.”
The best thing about working with elementary-age children, Sweeney said, is that they get fired up about a lot of things and display that high level of excitement. The drawback is at the end of the day his own energy level is fleeting.
“I hope at some point I can pick up on their energy level,” he said.
Sweeney has received recognition for his work.
In 2015, he was given the All Star award for Project Fit America. He was one of four teachers in the country to receive the award. He also trains other schools in Project Fit.
Last year, he was an ExCEL award nominee which led HCEC-TV to produce video of his curriculum. Because of that video, Sweeney was awarded the Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Elementary School Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award.
He also is vice president for sports and leisure for the organization.
His wife, Olivia, is an occupational therapist which he said goes hand in hand with what he does at school.
“I gain a lot of good experience from her,” he said.
She is a rehab manager at a nursing home. Even though they work on the opposite ends of the age spectrum they have similar stories, he said.