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Making fitness fun, with just a touch of education thrown in, has students cheering for Gary Macek.
A longtime Sunnyside School physical education teacher, Macek has become known in the school community for his work keeping students of all ages physically fit while creating activities that offer educational benefits as well. Now the district is wise to his act as well.
“We like to have a lot of fun,” said Macek, who was tabbed as the district’s innovator of the month at last month’s Board of Education meeting, about his time each day with the students.
School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet, in announcing Macek’s honor, said innovators in Shelton’s school district do not just have to be those who code computer language, do multimedia work or are associated with the highly regarded Shelton Intermediate’s School of Innovation.
“Every time I am at Sunnyside School, I see this individual running physical education classes that are absolutely spectacular,” said Clouet. “His lessons just lift people up. Physical education is something in which you expect kids to have fun, but this is something different. These kids are lifted off the ground.”
Clouet said he watches as, in some instances, special needs students are throwing balls on giant bugs on a screen.
“Gary just has a rapport with the kids,” said Clouet about the 27-year veteran of the district. “You can tell when some kids are being left out, or when they are just not feeling it. But Gary has everyone involved. Gary does his job with a lot of fun and talent.”
Macek was hired in 1992, and since he has helped develop special fitness tip videos as part of the morning messages — with an eye toward making physical education more than just playing games and, instead a time to learn ways to stay fit while also developing the mind.
“It is important for kids to get a love for exercise,” said Macek, adding that his videos illustrate such "activities as pushups and jump rope, walking through both the right way and wrong way so students learn the proper techniques.
Sunnyside School third and fourth graders also participate in Ron Dixon’s KiDSMARATHON in Cheshire each year. That participation started with a jogging class for a half hour before school, from March to May, in which students work to run at least 25.2 miles during the eight-week period
“The kids can also run at home to get their miles,” said Macek, adding that some 41 students participated this year alone. “The parents are an incredible help. The kids get to jog in the morning in the gym, with music playing, and they get to throw the football around. They make friends, get medals at Cheshire, and this all promotes fitness.”
Sunnyside School also participates in the Jump Rope for Heart benefit for the American Heart Association. In this program between $3,000 and $5,000 has been raised by second through fourth graders, said Macek, adding that $3,900 was raised this year all while the students keep fit for a good cause.
Other games Macek has students perform focus on math and alphabet instruction. He has also passed on ideas — such as stretching, chair pushups, jumping and other exercises — to his fellow teachers to keep the students active during class time.
“Research shows kids who are more alert do better in class,” said Macek. “Kids perform better when they are stimulated.”
Shelton High School Athletic Director John Niski said it has been a privilege to work alongside Macek, both in his role as educator and as a parent volunteer.
“Gary is clearly making a difference,” said Niski. “Today’s PE is clearly not the traditional vision of rolling a ball, kicking it around and shooting baskets. Gary has a real involvement, which translates directly into the test scores, which have been some of the highest in the district year after year after year.”
Niski said that Sunnyside School continues to be recognized by the state as a School of Distinction, and “Gary’s involvement is critical in overall success of the school.”
Macek has an amazing amount of work and energy, according to Niski.
“The work that he has done in adaptive PE class is absolutely astounding,” said Niski. “It’s not just getting the kids to do the fitness stuff, it’s the way that he does it, the way the students respond to his genuine care and concern for their health and well-being and education. I could not be more proud to be here to recognize him.”
Clouet said school should incorporate methods to promote a sound mind and sound body, and “Gary really incorporates them both together so well.”