I have been a physical education teacher for 28 years and am currently teaching grades 6-8 at Cohoes Middle School, part of a small school district located just north of Albany, NY.
In 2019, I attended SHAPE America’s SPEAK Out! Day in Washington, DC — an event that gives health and physical educators the opportunity to advocate for HPE while meeting with their members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
And, as a direct result of my SPEAK Out! Day experience, something really exciting happened at my school.
SPEAK Out! Day Recap
On SPEAK Out! Day, my group was scheduled to meet with the staff of Congressman Paul Tonko, who represents New York’s 20th Congressional District. While we were waiting, I noticed Congressman Tonko on his way out.
I quickly introduced myself and thanked him for allowing us to meet with his staff members. He stopped and said, “I have a minute. Please tell me where you are from and what you teach.” He proceeded to do this with everyone in our group. He also invited us to take pictures in his office and thanked us.
Our group then met with Congressman Tonko’s staff, who were very receptive and supportive of our request to fully support Title IV, Part A funding.
Finding Benefits for Your School
Through my SPEAK Out! Day interactions, I found a way for my school to benefit. Here are a few ideas you may want to try.
- Sign up for your representative’s newsletter.
Once I returned home from my amazing SHAPE America SPEAK Out! Day experience, I signed up for Congressman Tonko’s newsletter, which included a lot of interesting and relevant information — including federal funding opportunities.
- Apply for relevant federal grants.
Congressman Tonko’s newsletter included Federal Funding Announcements, which had a section for Education. One of the grant opportunities was for surplus books from the Library of Congress. I decided to fill out the application, requesting books on the topics of sports and health. I applied in March and received a response from the Congressman’s office which said I would be contacted as soon as they had materials that met my request.
- Invite your congressional representative to visit your school.
On September 10, I received an email from Congressman Tonko’s staff that read, “We have materials that meet your request … 34 fiction and nonfiction books, valued at approximately $607.”
We arranged for Congressman Tonko to deliver the books to our school on October 10, from 1-2 p.m. His visit would include presenting the books to our students and spending a few minutes talking about the Library of Congress Surplus Books program. He would also be able to answer some questions and pose for a few photos.
I was told that typically this visit would be on the Congressman’s public schedule — and if it’s on the public schedule, the media often attends and takes some photos. They told us to feel free to issue a press advisory from the school as well.
- Use the visit to shine a light on health and physical education — and your student athletes.
This congressional visit was a valuable opportunity for our students. My principal, Dan Martinelli, thought it would be a good match for our student athletes to meet with Congressman Tonko. Students were chosen from our modified soccer, cross country, soccer, and volleyball teams.
These students were asked to wear their team jerseys for the event, which brought attention to their leadership abilities as student athletes. In addition, Principal Martinelli wanted to have a few of these students meet the Congressman at the door and escort him to our school Library. Congressman Tonko was impressed and mentioned that this was a “classy” welcome.
During his presentation, Congressman Tonko shared information about the Library of Congress Surplus Book program, as well as his background and how he started in politics. He spent over an hour engaging with our students. I had prepped my student athletes to ask the congressman questions about whether he supported health and physical education. He stated that he supported these programs and understood their importance in every student’s educational experience.
Congressman Tonko’s visit was a positive experience for my students. We were impressed with how genuine Congressman Tonko was and how available he is to the people that he represents. The visit was well received in our school community and within our school district. Our school district’s media specialist, Aaron Cagwin, took photos and spotlighted the event on the district’s website and Twitter page.
I cannot thank SHAPE America, NYS AHPERD, Capital Zone of NYS AHPERD, and my school district enough for providing me with the opportunity to participate in 2019 SPEAK Out! Day. Fingers crossed that I get to attend again to continue cultivating a positive relationship between our congressional representatives and Cohoes Middle School, while advocating for health and physical education.
Teresa Gendron has been a physical education teacher for 28 years in New York’s Cohoes City School District. She served as the president of the Capital Zone for NYS AHPERD from 2017-2019 and is currently president-elect for the organization’s Elementary Physical Education Section. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TerryGendron.