Originally published July 23, 2019 in the Pamplin News-Times.
By Wade Evanson
I love golf. You may love ice cream. But according to Hillsboro physical education instructors Neill Twigg and Steve Johnson, we both love PE.
Ten years ago, Twigg, who teaches at Patterson Elementary, and Johnson, who teaches at Orenco Elementary, started a business called Everybody Loves PE! You may wonder why two teachers who normally have the summer off would choose to spend their three-month vacation doing what they do the other nine months of the year. But to these two physical education enthusiasts, it’s really pretty simple.
“The number one reason is that we love what we do,” Twigg said. “We love working with kids, love keeping them active, and love the idea of giving kids an opportunity to meet and play in a safe and educational environment.”
Everybody Loves PE is a program for kids from first through sixth grade. Sessions are one week long and run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. It works much like an elongated version of the typical physical education class you might see in elementary school, consisting of various individual and team activities, including but not limited to games, cheers, obstacle courses and much more.
The two gym jockeys — who’ve been teaching physical education for a combined 32 years — started the program after seeing something similar as part of a limited professional development program called “Fun PE Guy.” They’d been looking for an alternative way to supplement their income over the summer when they attended the workshop started by Dennis Stands, which teaches existing and aspiring PE teachers a range of activities, games and strategies for teaching physical education. After attending the 10-week workshop Twigg and Johnson saw an opportunity for something similar — but for kids.
“It was kind of a ‘wow moment,’ and opened our eyes to different things we could do,” Twigg said. “We were like, wow, this guy has X amount of adults coming to his class he does it for 10 weeks during the summer around the Northwest. We were like, man, something like this would be fun to do.”
From there, it was about learning. Neither Twigg nor Johnson had run a business before, so they had to clear the facilities and equipment with the Hillsboro School District, then spread the word about what they were offering in an uber-busy summer market. They thought they had a niche — after all, most camps are sport-specific and are set in a highly competitive environment. Theirs, however, was designed more as an extension of elementary PE, geared more toward activity and fun rather than competition.
“You see these specific camps for soccer or basketball, so we wondered what we were doing to reach these other kids that aren’t ‘athletes,'” Johnson said. “The kids that still need to find a way to be active, but aren’t into specific sports.”
Everybody Loves PE is offered over a 10-week period beginning in June and ending the week of Aug, 12-16. Sessions start with the combination of grades four through six, then first through third, and alternate every week. A typical day starts with check-in and introduction, then continues with various individual and team activities ranging from low- to high-energy, and mixes in snacks, lunch and recesses, much like a typical school day.
“We break up the day, knowing that five hours is a lot for a kid or adult to be active, so we’re mindful of the types of activities we do back-to-back,” Johnson said. “For instance, this week we’re doing a team building activity to start the day for 15 minutes, then go to a tag game or higher physical activity game, then we go to a co-operative game for a longer period of time where kids are working in teams toward a shared or common goal. Then recess or lunch.”
The classes are obviously physical, but they stimulate kids’ minds as well as their bodies.
“We do so much more than specific physical activities,” Twigg said. “PE is one of the only subjects in school that kids get everything from emotional, academic, social and cognitive stimulation that creates a well-rounded experience. So it’s nice not to just work on physical skills, but also all of the others necessary for life.”
Throughout the day, kids are awarded ELPE (Everyone Loves PE) tickets for displays of safe, respectful or responsible behavior. At the end of class, those tickets are put into a treasure box for a prize drawing.
“They start to see that when they do nice or good things, they’re rewarded,” said Johnson.
The camps have grown every year, to the point where now the duo offers internships and hours for Portland Community College and high school leadership students.
And how do the kids like it?
“Sometimes kids show up and are a bit grumpy, but we make it a fun atmosphere and hold them to a high standard of behavior … they appreciate and embrace that,” Johnson said. “Once they see what our camp is all about and how comfortable we make it, they find themselves on board.”
The camp’s teachers both come from an athletic background. Twigg — who grew up in the Hillsboro area — was a volleyball and basketball player in and after high school, and Johnson — who completed his undergraduate degree at Oregon State and his master’s degree at Pacific University in Forest Grove — played basketball in high school and now coaches the sport at Liberty. It’s that experience, along with their professional certification, that distinguishes them from others who offer similar summer experiences.
“There are a handful of other things out there designed to occupy kids’ time, but what sets us apart is that we’re two licensed teachers who are still further educating ourselves on what’s best for kids,” Johnson said.
Yes, Everybody Loves PE is a business. But more than that, it’s a labor of love and an opportunity for a couple physical education professionals to continue giving year-round.
“We want these kids to be active now, but our hope is that we’re helping to develop people who choose to be active for a lifetime,” Twigg said. “Knock on wood, we’ve never had a negative comment, so we’re doing something right. But more than that, it’s great to know we’re making a positive impact in kids’ lives.”