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Making school fun the key for Pa. teacher of the year finalist from Berks

Bo Shappell doesn’t remember much Latin.

He took the course back when he was a student at Exeter High School. But over the years, the vocab and conjugations and grammar have mostly slipped his mind.

What he hasn’t forgotten, though, is how he felt in that class.

“The teacher made class fun,” he said.

That teacher, Michael Kittsock, ended up being a finalist for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year Award. He also inspired Shappell to want to teach.

Now in his 19th year teaching in the Daniel Boone School District, Shappell has not only followed in Kittsock’s footsteps in pursuing a career in education, but also in being honored by the state for his work.

Shappell has been named one of this year’s 12 finalists for the prestigious Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Award. And that’s largely in part to trying to make students enjoy school as much as Kittsock made him enjoy Latin.

“I want this to be the best possible experience for students,” he said.

Along with feeling he had a calling for teaching, Shappell has also always loved sports. So he has married his two passions, becoming a physical education and health teacher.

For the first 14 years of his career he worked at Daniel Boone Middle School. Four years ago he moved to Daniel Boone High School.

Not traditional gym

At both stops, Shappell has tried to turn his classes into something students can truly enjoy and learn from. He has even rewritten the district’s curriculum to make that possible, and in doing so changed physical education into something that adults might not recognize.

“My program is not like the traditional ‘roll the ball out,’” he said. “I’ve created an integrated wellness program.”

That program includes four tentpoles: muscle development, mind-body connections, cardiovascular improvement and self-assessment.

Shappell said his program includes traditional team sports — the kind many people picture when they think of a physical education class — as well as individual activities. Both have merit, he said, but individual athletic activities are likely things that students will stick with into adulthood.

After all, he said, only a tiny fraction of adults are involved in team sports.

Shappell has also tried to merge physical education and health education, saying it never made much sense to him not to.

“Why do we silo health and physical education?” he said. “They go hand in hand.”

Shappell said he wanted to create full, robust programs for students. He wanted to create something that can impact their lives while also being fun.

“I know adults who say they hated physical education,” he said. “I don’t want that for my students. I want to change kids’ perceptions about their futures and exercise.”

Reaching out for help

But in order to pursue his program, Shappell needed some help. Like most school districts, Daniel Boone didn’t necessarily have the equipment needed for many of the individual activities he wanted to teach.

Like, for example, TRX bands. TRX bands are rubber fitness bands of varying resistance that can be used for an assortment of exercises.

Daniel Boone didn’t have any, so Shappell decided to reach out the TRX Training to see if they might donate one. He wrote to the company’s CEO and got an unexpected and exciting response.

The company wasn’t going to send one free band, they were going to send a dozen. They were also going to send for free everything needed to install the bands, and provide free training to Shappell so he could be certified to train other TRX band instructors.

“When I got the call I was so happy I cried,” Shappell said.

After that success, Shappell was emboldened. Over the past several years he has reached out to more companies asking for donations, and many have been more than willing to help.

He’s received water bottles from Yeti. He’s received yoga mats. In all, Shappell estimates, he’s been given more than $10,000 worth of items.

In the cards

Shappell has also been able to bring another piece of equipment into the classroom, one that he created himself.

The 39-year-old said that a few years back he was out to dinner with his wife when he noticed something.

“I saw all these families and the parents were on their phones, the kids were on their tablets,” he said. “I thought, ‘Where’s the connections?’ Something was lost.”

So Shappell decided to do something to help. He and his wife, Daniella, used the experience as motivation to create COMCHI, a card game designed to spur connections and reflection.

The cards have several different aspects. They can be used as a standard deck of cards, but also each features a particular color, a nature scene and a reflective question.

Shappell and his wife sell the cards on Amazon, and they’ve become quite popular among educators and in the corporate world. And Shappell has begun holding workshops to teach about how the cards can be used.

One example he gave came from his own classroom last year.

Shappell had his students pair off and each pick a card with a color that reflected something they had done over the weekend. A pair of boys both picked red.

“The one picked red because he had gone to a Phillies game, and the other picked red because he had watched the game on TV,” Shappell said. “These two boys who had never talked to each other were suddenly engaged with each, talking about the Phillies.”

For the students

Innovations like COMCHI are one of the reasons Shappell has been named a finalist for teacher of the year, the winner of which will be announced at a ceremony this fall. It’s a recognition that he says humbles him.

“I’m so fortunate to be in this work of education, to be considered among these other amazing teachers,” he said, adding that he feels as though just being a finalist is already a victory. “If I do win, that would just be icing on the cake. I would love to bring it home for our district, for my students, because they’ve been so supportive.”

That’s what it’s really all about, Shappell said. Winning an award doesn’t mean much without his students, they’re the reason why he does what he does.

And they’re a big part of the reason he’s the teacher he is.

“It’s the students, hands down,” he said. “I learn from them every single day. They make me not want to stay complacent, to always strive to grow.

“They make me want to hone my craft and improve.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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