Mary Beth French and John Ray
Their story: From Delaware to Baltimore, Mary Beth French and John Ray have traveled to various communities to teach Presidential Youth Fitness Program best practices. Together, they reflect on what led them to become program trainers, what they have gained from the experience, and the value of quality fitness education in schools.
Q: What initially inspired you to work in physical education and what has been your career path up to this point?
MB: I attended a non-public school for my K-8 years and did not have physical education until I was in high school. The physical education teacher who taught at the elementary school in my neighborhood had after-school gymnastics and invited my sisters and I to join. When I was in high school, that same teacher invited me to help teach gymnastic classes with him on Saturday mornings. By the time I was a junior, I knew I wanted to study physical education in college. I have enjoyed teaching all age groups and have spent the majority of my career teaching at the elementary level. What I love is that each year brings a new challenge and learning experience.
J: The need for students to lead a fit and healthy life was what inspired me, and what continues to inspire me, to work in physical education. My career path began as a physical education teacher, which then led me to serve as a principal at both the middle school and high school levels. I became the state-level Coordinator for Physical Education in West Virginia and then eventually became Delaware's Consultant for Physical Education. I also served as President for the Society of State Directors of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
Q: Why should others consider applying to become a Presidential Youth Fitness Program (PYFP) Trainer?
MB: We never stop learning from each other. Even though I have been teaching for 37 years, I learn something new every time I have an opportunity to attend or lead a training. Since many of us are the only physical educator at our school, being all together at the trainings gives us an energy boost.
J: By becoming a PYFP trainer, one can become a champion of the Whole Child-Whole School-Whole Community model. This model provides the utmost level of health and fitness training for teachers, students, parents and community members.
Q: How has becoming a certified PYFP trainer contributed to your own professional development?
MB: The trainings have led me to delve deeper into the available PYFP resources so that I can increase the quality of my own program and share those findings when I present. After every training, I typically send participants an email filled with the resources I use, as well as any available grant opportunities. The trainings have also been a great way to improve my public speaking skills.
J: Learning never stops and the collaboration with other trainers and teachers always provides opportunities to grow.
Q: You recently conducted a training for Baltimore City Public School physical educators. What were some of your key takeaways from this particular group?
MB: The students attending Baltimore City Public Schools are fortunate that the National Fitness Foundation is working with partners like the Aspen Institute and Under Armour to support their physical educators in providing quality fitness education programs. Through the training, participants understood that they are not the "lone ranger" when working to change their school climate and that there are groups across different sectors that want to lift up their work in preparing students for a lifetime of health and fitness.
J: The participants at the Baltimore training were a great group of physical educators who were eager to learn and grow. Alongside Mary Beth, we provided content-specific resources and skills so that they can implement new and improved practices at their schools.
Q: For physical educators trying to communicate the value of PE in their school and/or district, what is one piece of advice you would share with them?
MB: First of all, do your homework! I sound like a teacher huh? You can do this by staying involved in your state professional and national professional organizations, as well as connecting with other professionals through social media. There are also online conferences and free resources on pyfp.org. You can expand your knowledge, resources and connections without the need to travel. Then walk the talk. Share with your school staff what your are teaching and why. School personnel tend to support programs that increase student test scores, attendance and behavior. Help them make that connection through advocating and sharing your research.
J: Advocate! And be the best role model possible. Never accept just being the "gym teacher." You are the physical education teacher helping to lead students towards fit and healthy lifestyles.
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