Students in PJ Jarvis’ physical education classes at Opportunity Elementary School don’t just learn the basics of sports. While they are waiting for their turn to play two-square, they run in place, hoping to reach 2,500 steps by the end of the class. There is information about healthy eating on the walls of the gym, as well as fitness goals for them.
“You don’t just come and bounce a ball around,” said Melanie Rose, spokeswoman for Central Valley Schools.
Jarvis, 44, has been at Opportunity for two years and previously spent nine years at Greenacres Elementary School. A graduate of University High School, she attended graduate school in Indiana and worked at an outdoor environmental school on the West Side of the state before returning to the district.
Last month, she was selected by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education as elementary school teacher of the year.
The national award isn’t just for bragging rights and a plaque. Jarvis said that with this honor comes a chance to speak out for physical education.
“I’m kind of the face of NASPE for the year,” she said. She trains PE teachers around the country and will lobby Congress.
“It’s a chance to be an advocate around the country for quality physical education,” Jarvis said.
At Opportunity, Jarvis teaches students the importance of physical activity. She said 20 or 30 minutes of aerobic activity before school boosts students’ brain function and their test scores improve. When students are learning to add three-digit numbers in class, she has them add up their steps on their pedometers, which the school bought with a grant from the Dairy Council.
During class, each student tries to take 2,500 steps, which is about the equivalent of one mile. For adults, it’s 2,000 steps, but children have shorter legs, so they must take more steps.
She also uses her class to teach anatomy. She awards “Bone Bucks” to students for achieving expectations in her class; those bucks then are used to “purchase” major muscles or bones for a poster of the human body in the gym. Their goal is to complete the set.
Jarvis was selected as teacher of the year after receiving the award from the state, then the region of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington. It’s been a process that has been going on since the 2008-’09 school year.
Principal Molly Carolan said physical education isn’t a class that is included in state assessments, but it does have classroom-based assessments and Jarvis was on the team that created the standards for students at the state level.
“PJ prepares students for the CBA,” Carolan said.
At the elementary school level, students get fitness assessments and begin to learn the concepts of fitness. They learn about making healthy choices and learn about nutrition – lessons Jarvis hopes students will take with them outside of the gym.
“She’s really teaching the child,” Carolan said. “And that’s truly teaching the whole child.”
Carolan said Jarvis is also a team player and works with other teachers to incorporate their curriculum with Jarvis’.
Jarvis has created partnerships in the community for the students. She brought in a teacher from a tae kwon do studio for three weeks to teach the basics. The teacher then offered the class for students who wanted to continue but at a discounted rate.
She emphasizes why physical education is important – “Kids are not nearly as active as they used to be.”
“It’s about taking care of yourself and respecting your body,” Carolan agreed.
But Jarvis doesn’t just teach physical activity. She lives it.
She competes in triathlons. She volunteers at fun runs. She said being active is not just her career, but her hobby and what she does socially. It’s taken its toll on her knees – she’s had four knee surgeries in five years, but she still loves it.
After every surgery she can’t wait to get back out and go for a run or ride her bike.
“It’s something I love,” she said.
She has always noticed runners in their 80s passing her during races and thinks about her own future.
“That’s who I want to be,” she said.