Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance recognizes staff for getting students to ‘buy in’ to the importance of physical activity
Originally published Nov. 23, 2018 in the Northwest Herald.
The McHenry High School District 156 physical education department was recognized with a Blue Ribbon Award for excellence from the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance after a yearlong effort to showcase the department’s approach to educating the whole student – mind and body.
District officials and physical education teachers and administrators received the Blue Ribbon Award plaque and banner during a Nov. 15 ceremony at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles as part of the association’s annual conference.“We are very proud that our PE department was recognized by the Blue Ribbon Committee for the amazing work they do on behalf of our school community each and every day,” District 156 Superintendent Ryan McTague said. “This recognition solidified their status as one of the most progressive PE departments in the state, and it is an honor that is well-deserved.”
McHenry High School, which includes the East and West campuses, is one of 10 schools to receive the award this year, but it is the only school to be a first-time recipient, said Maureen Fournier, a co-chairman of the association’s Blue Ribbon Committee for Physical Education.
A total of 73 schools statewide have earned a Blue Ribbon Award for physical education since the award’s inception in 1999, and McHenry is one of only 12 high schools.
In addition to the plaque and banner, McHenry High School’s physical education department will be featured in the spring Illinois Journal, an association publication. Physical education teachers also plan to give a presentation about McHenry High School’s program at an upcoming association conference.
Many things are considered in evaluating schools for a Blue Ribbon Award: physical education curriculum, facility use, curriculum delivery and student involvement, association officials said.
For McHenry High School, the award is a culmination of a yearlong endeavor that involved collaboration with East and West parents, students, teachers and administrators to show that the physical education department is at the top of its game. And it is a recognition of a long-standing effort to inspire a love of physical activity in all students.
“It’s a long time in the making to get where we are,” said Jennifer Beattie, McHenry High School teacher and division chairwoman for physical education, health and driver’s education. “Everyone deserves credit. It’s a team effort.”
Physical education teachers and administrators at both East and West applied for the award last fall by submitting a summary of the program along with supporting materials to highlight all of the ways they try to engage students in physical activity and wellness.
Before applying, teachers had to be able to show that every student who could take physical education was enrolled in a daily course.
One of the criteria of an award-winning high school program is to show that no students are waived out of daily activity.
That work culminated with an April 6 site visit by six evaluators from the association. Three evaluators went to East Campus, and three visited West Campus. They observed classes, talked to students and parents and inspected facilities. Evaluators are teachers from other Blue Ribbon physical education programs.
“We look at everything,” said Fournier, a retired physical education teacher from Alsip. “It’s a very detailed process.”
Fournier, who was one of the six evaluators, said they were impressed with the McHenry High School physical education department’s effort to get all students “to buy into how important it is to be physically active.”
The fact that there are so many different options for physical education classes shows that educators are trying to appeal to all students, not only athletes, she said.
The strength and conditioning program at McHenry High School also was noted as “outstanding” by Blue Ribbon evaluators, Fournier said. Strength and fitness facilities at both East and West have been remodeled and upgraded, making them popular areas for students.
Fournier said association officials gave high marks for McHenry High School’s “Motivational Fridays,” when students take turns giving talks to groups of peers about the importance of being active and physically fit. Since the on-site evaluation took place on a Friday, association officials got to see it firsthand.
“It was really cool,” Fournier said.
The strength and conditioning program is not only popular with students, but it has drawn the interest of other high schools in the area, said John Beerbower, West Campus teacher and assistant division chairman for physical education, health and driver’s education.
Beerbower, who helped spearhead the award application along with East teacher and assistant division chairman Evan Kozlowski, said teachers and administrations from dozens of area schools have toured McHenry’s strength and conditioning facilities to learn more about the program.
In addition to strength and conditioning, students also can choose Fitness for Life classes, dance classes, aquatic fitness and lifeguarding as physical education coursework.
Offering so many options is part of an effort to appeal to all students to take advantage of opportunities to be physically active for life.
“The PE department has always promoted the benefits of fitness on brain function and academic success,” Beerbower said.
All of the improvements in McHenry High School’s physical education program are part of an effort to always work to get better. For example, three years ago, the department made the shift to freshman-only physical education to give new students an opportunity to focus on learning about physical fitness with other freshmen.
“Whenever our expectations increase, our kids keep meeting those expectations,” Kozlowski said. “PE has changed a lot.”
McHenry High School physical education teachers said they appreciate the willingness of students and their families to participate in the process along with teachers and administrators.
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