If Cynthia Johnson were the type to keep a trophy cabinet, it’d be getting full about now– and for good reason. The physical education teacher has spent more than 35 years serving the students of Esko Public Schools in Minnesota, earning accolades such as the state’s “Dance Teacher of the Year” and “Elementary School Teacher of the Year” along the way.
At the 2016 SHAPE America Convention & Expo on April 7th, it was announced that Cynthia (or “CJ” — as her students and colleagues call her) would add a national award to that list: she was named the recipient of the first-ever Let’s Move! Active Schools Outstanding Physical Activity Leader (PAL) Award.
The Outstanding PAL Award recognizes one individual who exemplifies leadership within the PAL Learning System, embodies the Let’s Move! Active Schools spirit, and champions a comprehensive school physical activity program within his or her respective community.
As CJ’s colleagues can attest, she more than meets those qualifications.
“CJ is an innovator when it comes to physical education,” wrote Brian Harker, the principal of the elementary school at which CJ teaches. “She provides a curriculum to students that is based on movement and movement with a purpose.”
According to another colleague, CJ “embodies what it means to be a physical activity champion in all aspects of her life.”
To CJ, the award is just a reflection of how much she has enjoyed her life’s work of empowering students to lead active, healthy lifestyles.
“It’s truly an honor any time that your peers nominate you for an award,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed finding activities that kids might not necessarily do at home and bringing a broad range of physical activities into our curriculum.”
“Broad range” might be an understatement; CJ has prided herself on bringing a diverse mix of activities to the students of Esko Public Schools, including after-school archery activities and introductions to tennis, badminton, tumbling, roller blading, curling, and more.
Students in the Esko Public Schools can take advantage of a 40-foot traverse climbing wall, for which CJ helped to secure a grant, and a dance curriculum that combines music with fast-paced physical activity.
“I’m just always looking for something new for the kids,” CJ said. “Especially the activities that many kids might not get to do with their families.”
To help implement these new activities into a robust curriculum, CJ has taken advantage of a number of Let’s Move! Active Schools resources, such as SPARK, the PAL Learning System, and the P.E. Program Checklist.
“Let’s Move! Active Schools and the PAL Training have helped me become a leader in the physical education area,” CJ said. “It helped us reach out to the classroom teachers and staff to get them involved, and helped us to create a more encompassing and comprehensive physical education program.”
Though she’s introduced Esko Public Schools to everything from A (archery) to Z (Zumba) over the past few years, CJ says she isn’t done quite yet.
“Right now, I’m trying to put together a unit on parkouring,” referring to the activity that involves rapidly moving around outdoor obstacles. “My hope is that it will bring kids, especially the boys, into the gymnastics apparatus.”
CJ says that, to this point, she’s never tried parkour in her life, but the Outstanding PAL Award recipient, to no surprise, is up for the challenge: “I guess it’s time for me to learn!”