Originally published Jan. 29, 2023 by the Herald-Tribune.

In middle school, Amber Rylak’s physical education (PE) teacher, Karen Coveleski, inspired her. In fact, Rylak wanted to be like Coach Coveleski so much that she matched her sneakers and shoelaces to her PE outfits, just like Coach.

Coveleski became Rylak’s soccer coach and, more importantly, a mentor who took Rylak under her wing and taught her about the importance of an active lifestyle. It is safe to say that Coach Coveleski altered the trajectory of her devoted student.

Rylak liked to run and ran track at the collegiate level at the College of New Jersey, where she majored in health and exercise science. After she graduated, she followed in her mentor’s steps and began teaching middle school PE in Princeton, New Jersey.

Rylak loved teaching middle school and coaching sports, but the opportunity to serve as an assistant camp director for the Special Olympics led her to take a sabbatical to become certified in Adapted Physical Education. She worked with teachers in New Orleans, providing in-home services. She recalls one experience where she witnessed a three-year-old boy who was developmentally delayed take his first steps. As the boy’s mother cried with joy, Rylak knew that the work she was doing mattered.

After earning her certificate, Rylak moved to Sarasota, where she began teaching PE at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, a Title I school. Rylak, who was recognized as the 2023 Innovation Teacher of the Year for Sarasota County, loves the supportive community she has found at Emma E. Booker Elementary.

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