DOWNERS GROVE – If it hadn’t been a surprise, Lester Elementary School PE teacher Pat Brown says she probably would have found a way to avoid all the attention.
Brown was busy hosting Lester Elementary School’s annual Jump Rope for Heart fundraising event Jan. 25 – as she has for the past 26 years – when Principal Carin Novak, Lester PTA officers and a crowd of parents and friends gave her a surprise.
Brown was presented with the National PTA Life Achievement Award. It’s the highest honor from the nation’s largest child advocacy organization.
Brown has been getting students moving as a physical education teacher before, during and after school for 31 years, and given the option, would rather talk about the importance of childhood exercise rather than her own accolades.
In the last several years, she brought innovative physical education instruction to District 58, instituting “Movin’ in the Morning,” a before-school activity program and “Motor Club,” an after-school program for first-graders.
Teachers will recommend to Brown students who could use some physical activity in the morning before coming to class. The exercise can act like the brain’s “on” switch, so the student enters the classroom ready to learn.
“All the research that’s out there, if you want students to do well academically, you’ve got to get them moving,” she said. “The more you move, the more your brain is working.”
For Brown, it’s important for children to get out and play the games taught in PE as quickly as possible. She’ll address the skill needed to play the game, and then get them moving – first-graders sitting and listening to a teacher obsess over technique leaves little time to get a workout in.
“We’re not raising Olympic [athletes]. We just want to raise kids who are in shape and make sure the body they have now is the body they’ll have when they get older. There’s a saying, ‘If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?’”
She also introduced an after-school intramural volleyball program for sixth-graders that culminates with a game against the staff.
Through her commitment to the Jump Rope for Heart charity, Lester has raised more than $156,000 for the American Heart Association and remains the only school to devote a weekend day to the program.
Similar to a fundraising run, participants find sponsors to donate for every minute the person jumps rope during the three-hour event.
Through it all, it’s the evident joy when a student is healthy and active that keeps Brown motivated after 31 years.
“I like when I see the smiles on the faces and the students are enthusiastic,” she said. “I think I must be doing something OK. I don’t have the answers. Let’s have some fun and let’s get them moving.”