Building student interest in fitness

In Derek Genzlinger’s physical education classes, there’s one rule that stands out.

Students must try to do their best, the Flandreau Elementary School teacher says.

“I just try to encourage them to do their best at everything we do in here,” he says. “Just to give their best efforts, that’s all I ask.”

He wants their award to be lifelong physical activity.

Genzlinger, 25, has earned an award of his own, too. The third-year teacher has been named the SHAPE SD New Teacher of the Year. He will be honored at a regional convention on Jan. 26 in Sioux Falls.

SHAPE SD, which stands for Society of Health and Physical Education, is a state-wide professional group of physical education and health teachers, and Genzlinger serves on its board.

“The energy Mr. Genzlinger brings to our school and his personality allow him to build relationships with students and staff very quickly,” says Jay Swatek, elementary principal who wrote a letter of recommendation for the award.

Genzlinger meets with kindergarten through second grade students twice every three days for 25 minutes and third and fourth graders once every three days for 50 minutes.

In addition to his classroom duties, Genzlinger helps other teachers with struggling students, based on his experience with them in his classes, Swatek says. Genzlinger also helps with the kindergarten and preschool screenings to assess motor skills, is an assistant football coach, assistant wrestling coach and has helped with updating the wellness standards at school.

During high school, Genzlinger was an all-conference football player and a state-placing wrestler at 160 pounds his senior year. He also played baseball on a team that went to state a handful of years.

In a recent third grade class, Genzlinger showed students how to do a tripod, standing on his head with his knees on his elbows, that they then extended into headstands. He also talked about safety and using another student as a spotter to help them.

“My legs are too long,” one boy said after trying the upside down, bird-like pose. Another quickly chimed in, “My legs are too short.”

“Your legs are too long? My legs are long, and I can do it,” Genzlinger countered.

Student after student rested knees on elbows while balancing on their heads.

“You got it,” Genzlinger encouraged.

The Howard native and South Dakota State University graduate warms up students by starting classes with running, jumping jacks, push-ups and sit-ups along with some stretching. He typically works on a unit at a time, teaching activities that correspond to sports seasons, including volleyball, football and basketball. He’s currently doing a unit on tumbling.

“Hopefully, being active in school will lead to them be physically active throughout life,” he says.

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