Jennifer Garcia, Haisley Elementary PE Teacher

Jennifer Garcia

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Jennifer Garcia grew up in a proud union family, the daughter of a fireman and nurse. Her childhood years were spent in the city of Wayne where she figure skated for about 10 years. By high school, her family moved to Highland where she graduated from Milford High School.

She started her college career at Oakland Community College and also volunteered at the University of Michigan’s Medsport where she found a
passion in sports medicine and physical therapy. This opened a door to transfer to the University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology where she earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in athletic training and movement science. She became a certified athletic trainer and practiced at MedSport and Probility, while working with many high schools in Wayne and Washtenaw counties.

As Garcia started educating her patients and athletes about their injuries, she realized that education was her next path. Returning to U-M, she completed her coursework and became certified to teach physical education and health. She found her first position in Dearborn Heights at Robichaud Jr./Sr. High School. She was then provided an opportunity to be an athletic trainer for Pioneer High School, and eventually found the best of both worlds of teaching and athletic training at Skyline High School.

At Skyline, she started the student athletic training program and taught Sports Med I, Sports Med II, Health, and PE. She coordinated Senior Recognition Night and the homecoming parade, as well as contributed to the lyrics of Skyline’s fight song and alma mater.

Garcia is now at Haisley Elementary where she is teaching Young 5’s-fifth grade, including adapted PE. She believes at the elementary age it’s imperative that students are learning problem solving, sportsmanship, exploration of movement, and an introduction to basic skills of a variety of sports and activities. She is invested in providing effective classroom management through the use of Responsive Classroom and is training with other district staff as a Building Autism Coach.

She is anticipating an adjunct professorship at Wayne State University in the evenings next fall.

Garcia is married to Frank Garcia, a math teacher at Skyline and coach for Pioneer’s Varsity Hockey, as well as Skyline’s varsity baseball team. They have three children: Isaiah, 10; Manny, 8; and Jillian, 6, who are all Haisley Huskies who love their school—especially their physical education teacher. The family enjoys hockey and baseball, as well as their border collie, Sophie, and kitten, Peggy.

Due to what she believes is the the under-resourced state of education and other social programs, Garcia was inspired to run for Livingston County Commissioner in 2016 and will do so again this 2020 election.

Garcia loves to read when she can find the time and enjoys music and movies. Her favorite places are the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Hawaii, and she hopes one day to visit Europe.

When and why did you decide to become a physical education teacher?
After working in the physical therapy setting, I found my passion within that career, was educating injured patients and athletes about their injury, as well as the structural and functional aspects of the anatomy. So, I returned to my alma mater, spoke with my former professor and she organized a schedule to help me obtain my certification in physical education and health.

How do you feel about physical education losing status as a priority in some districts across the country?
It’s disheartening to watch education streamline their focus into sole core academics when students learn and thrive in a variety of environments that inspire them to come to school. Whether it’s a future career pathway, hobby, or introduction to something new or different, our courses outside of the “rigor of core academics” are essential to the development of a well-rounded, healthy individual. Physical education tends to find itself at the bottom of the priority barrel, even though the content is vital to
every individual’s overall health. While it is can be frustrating, it also motivates me to educate the public about what it is we do in physical education and health, and how it impacts society as a whole. I am a huge advocate of my profession because I see first-hand the impacts it has on our students.

Recently I was appointed the Advocacy & Legislative chair of our state professional organization, SHAPE. We are currently pushing back on a particular piece of language change by our state senate, SB 600, which wants to eliminate the graduation requirement of health, physical education, and the arts. This legislation is dangerous and in the complete opposite direction of where I believe we should go with physical education and health. Our country is in desperate need of more time in these content areas, and it shows if you follow statistical trends around depression, suicide, violence, obesity, diabetes, and more. We are the only content area
that addresses the whole child and that face-to-face interaction is imperative for our students.

Do you sense any misconceptions about PE class?
There is a stereotype of teaching “gym” that was once upon a time a hard truth. What is sad is that our profession has really evolved, but we can’t shake the misconceptions of what happens in our environment. While some “gym” teachers may still exist, the vast majority of our profession, particularly here in Ann Arbor, has a focus on creating physically literate and physically competent students. Our goals and focus are to ensure students feel confident in participating in physical activity outside of the
phys ed environment, especially since our time with our students is so limited.

How can parents encourage children to get more physical activity at home?
To be honest, they really need exposure to finding the type of fitness they feel comfortable participating in. That’s the beauty of our curriculum is exploring a variety of fitness and sport activities and providing the basic level skills to feel comfortable and confident to try expanding those skills into regular participation.

I think at home the most important thing for a parent to do is model and include their children. Setting aside time to play, dance, or exercise together and making daily routine a norm is what will help shape a child’s independence around physical activity—as will sending the kids out to play, be creative, and move without relying on screens for entertainment. Allowing a child to be bored sparks creativity and movement.

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
I worked in a challenging district, that could have been intimidating for many. However, it didn’t take long to discover that you get students to buy in when you develop relationships and they truly know you are invested in them as a whole person. I loved those students, even though it may have been one of the more stressful experiences of my career. There were a lot of late nights and sleepless nights, but those moments of connection, and seeing where they are now via Facebook, made it all worth it.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Establishing your culture and climate is key. Building relationships while providing a structured environment with clear expectations and logical consequences that you follow through on will help you build a successful classroom. It won’t come right away, nor will everything work all the time, but be willing to adjust and reach out to the right resources for help.

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
When former students comment that my class inspired them to peruse their career. I’ve had students go into the sports medicine field or teaching because of the exposure they had in a class they took with me.
Or they have made major health and life changes because of what they learned from the classes I have taught. It reminds you why you do what you do.

In your 12 years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching?

The most important thing I’ve learned is that you are never “professionally developed.” It is a state of constant growth so continue to learn, reach out, change, and evolve.

Describe an average workday.
My morning starts with prepping my own three kids to get ready with me for school. Once we arrive at school, I try to prep my space for the day before I have to be outside to help with our “Kiss and Drop.”

I then finish preparing for my day which starts differently due to our schedule. Every day is a different schedule, but rotates classes every 30 minutes, except 5th grade for 50 minutes. I have a lunch midday and go
back to my schedule until the school day is over. I make sure kids get to where they need to be after school, collect my own, then head off to home, meetings, hockey, or speech/OT for one of my kids, depending on the day.

What’s the happiest part of your workday?
Currently it is being in the hallway as one of my children’s classes go by and (even though I tell them not to) they pop out of line to give their mom a hug. I’m grateful to be able to see them daily.

What’s unique about working at Haisley?
We have an incredibly diverse population, with a variety of different abilities. This creates an empathetic environment that is like no other. I am so proud of the acceptance, inclusion, and understanding of our students and staff.

Apps you can’t live without:
Socially I am a Facebook addict and for fun, my kids and I like to play with the filters on Snapchat.
Professionally, I use TeamShake to help me quickly create equitable groups and teams. Twitter has been an amazing PE reference where professionals share how they approach their curriculum, include technology, or just share fun activities.

If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?
That I am doing what is right to help create a better society and stand for those who need support or are marginalized in our society.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
Knowing that the information I am providing these students help develop healthy individuals who can contribute to a better society. And seeing where life takes your students as they grow into adults. My heart swells when I see the accomplishments of my former students. Recently a former student had responded to a post on Facebook about how her career choice (special education) was inspired by the peer mentoring class she took with me and nothing will bring tears to your eyes like that type of recognition because it’s why we do what we do. Teachers only want the best for their students. We want to see them shine and succeed like we know they can.

How do you recharge?
I sing in a band and while it’s fun to perform in public for our friends, even my time practicing is incredibly cathartic. I can get lost in a song and my mind can shut off from everything else for a few hours.

How do you spend your summers?
In all my years of teaching I have yet to take a full summer off, it’s a goal I aspire to though! I’ve spent nearly all my summers teaching swimming or assisting at KidSport’s summer camp. I’ve backed off some over the more recent years, but have replaced that time with Atlas/curriculum development and taught summer school last summer. We do, of course, carve out a vacation or two with the family and try to accomplish all the household projects we don’t get to over the school year.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
Professionally I am excited and honored to be a part of my professional organization, SHAPE, to help advocate for our profession, as well as the opportunity to teach at Wayne State University.

In my personal life, I enjoying seeing the accomplishments of my husband, particularly his success with Pioneer hockey this year, as well as watching my children grow and become involved in their interests.

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