Originally published Oct. 18, 2022 in the Washington Post.
By Lauren Lumpkin
In a surprise ceremony at Center City Public Charter School’s campus in Brightwood, a physical education teacher was named D.C. Teacher of the Year.
Each year, educators across the city vie for the coveted award, which comes with a $7,500 check and the chance to compete for National Teacher of the Year in a contest run by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Jermar Rountree, 38, received this year’s honor.
“It was a complete surprise,” said Rountree, who was recognized in a ceremony Monday morning. He thought he was attending a science event, he said.
Rountree thinks his everyday contributions are what make the difference. In the mornings, he greets each child by name, and that includes siblings who attend different schools, he said. His P.E. classes feature restorative circles and mental health check-ins. All students — from 3-year-old prekindergartners to teenage eighth-graders — are encouraged to be themselves in his class, he added.
Students recite a motto during every class period: “Respect yourself, respect others and respect our space and things,” Rountree said. “It sets a reminder in my class that we are all in this together.”
In Rountree’s class, mental health is as much a focus as physical health — particularly as students continue to adjust after returning to school from online learning, when balled-up socks had to take the place of real baseballs and basketballs during virtual P.E. “One of the things I incorporated this year is we talk a lot about what stresses our kids out,” Rountree said, adding that he tries to give students the opportunity to advocate for themselves.